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Title: The Hangman's Knot
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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The Hangman's Knot
by
Arthur Gask





Published in The Courier-Mail, Brisbane, Qld. in serial format commencing Saturday 16 November, 1935.

Also published in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A. commencing 11 December, 1935, and in book form in 1936.


CONTENTS:

CHAPTER I.—"SOWING THE WIND."
CHAPTER II.—"THE DRUMS OF WAR."
CHAPTER III.—LAROSE UPON THE TRAIL.
CHAPTER IV.—GHOSTS OF THE DEAD.
CHAPTER V.—LAROSE HEARS THE VOICE.
CHAPTER VI.—THE SECRETS OF THE RIVER.
CHAPTER VII.—THE WORKERS IN THE NIGHT.
CHAPTER VIII.—"THE TERROR BY DAY."
CHAPTER IX.—THE TRAIL OF BLOOD.
CHAPTER X.—"THE BURGLARY AT ROSTRELLOR COURT."
CHAPTER XI.—"IN THE SHADOW OF THE SCAFFOLD."
CHAPTER XII.—THE REJUVENATION OF AH CHUNG.
CHAPTER XIII.—"THE WAYS OF DEATH."
CHAPTER XIV.—LAROSE BAITS HIS TRAP.
CHAPTER XV.—THE BATTLE OF THE GIANTS.
CHAPTER XVI.—THE BATTLE CONTINUED.
CHAPTER XVII.—THE HANGMAN'S KNOT.


CHAPTER I.—"SOWING THE WIND."

Man is always an animal, and civilisation, culture, and the conventions of society are but the mask that covers over the face of the beast. Sometimes the mask is lifted and then we gaze upon expressions more terrible than those of any creature of the wild, because of the resentment of the beast at the restraints that have been imposed upon him.

* * *

Ah Chung was a marine store dealer on Limehouse Causeway, and from the outward appearance of his shop it was no different from any others of its kind by the river side. In the big shed, however, at the far end of the backyard, happenings occurred that were unknown except to a very few, and which would have been of great interest to the police, if by any chance they had come to their knowledge.

The shed was roomy and most substantially built. It had double doors, double windows, and was completely sound-proof.

The marine store, notwithstanding its rather small size, did a good trade, and there were always customers passing in and out. Ah Chung had, however, several other sources of income, and indeed was quite well-to-do. Although people were not aware of the fact, he owned the houses on either side of the one he lived in, and also the barber's shop that abutted on to his yard at the back, and opened into Rent Street. There were hidden means of communication between all the four houses.

The houses adjoining Ah Chung's shop were managed by relations of Ah Chung. One was a lodging-house, and the other a bird and live-stock shop. In this latter, in addition to parrots, canaries, ducks, and even the humble fowl, you could purchase animals drawn from all parts of the world. Monkeys were always obtainable and sometimes wallabies, and occasionally, even a mongoose. There were cats of all varieties in cages, and a number of dogs, the latter, however, were usually of large size, and evidently intended for watch-dogs, rather than for pets.

The tenant of the barber's shop was a Swiss, named Voisin, and like the majority of his country-men he was taciturn and short of speech. He said little as he cut hair and shaved, but nevertheless took good stock of all his customers as they came in, as if instead of being a barber, he were a medical man and studying all their cases. He had served a term of imprisonment in his own country and in this, the country of his adoption, he had also reason for fearing the police. Occasionally he used to visit Ah Chung late at night, and in the intervals of discussing business, endeavour to make himself agreeable to the latter's two young and pretty wives. The girls, however, spoke no French or German and little English, being both recent importations, and they only giggled at his clumsy advances.

In a friendly way, Ah Chung was well-known to the police, and, indeed, was held by them in some esteem. He was marked as straight at headquarters, for he had many times been of service to the authorities in putting them upon the tracks of dealers in illicit drugs. He was never, however, seen to approach any police station, but from time to time a neatly typed letter would arrive at the station in Limehouse, with a dot and two dashes instead of a signature, and it would be known from whom it came. It would give certain information, and that information would invariably prove to be correct. Ah Chung was paid for these services, and he expected to be, too, for it was at all times, he averred, a risk to be having dealings with the police. He was most businesslike in all his transactions, and quick in his decisions always knew his own mind.

One day an enterprising and energetic plain-clothes man, McCarthy by name, came into the shop, and with the pretence of inspecting a coil of rope, put some questions to Ah Chung about the barber, Voisin.

"I'm getting suspicious," he whispered, "for I've noticed that some nights he gets a lot of callers after his place is shut. Do you know anything about him?"

Ah Chung's face was as expressionless as that of the Sphinx. "I have never seen him," he lied softly. He spoke perfect English. "I know nothing."

The plain-clothes man laughed. "Well, you be careful," he said, "and don't start sticking a knife into me, if you catch me one night in your back-yard. I may climb up on to his roof that way and take a peep through the sky-light."

Two nights later McCarthy did not return home, and later it was believed he had fallen into the river and got drowned, although his body was never recovered. Ah Chung heard of his disappearance, but made no comment. He had just been examining a police whistle under a powerful magnifying-glass to see if there were any distinguishing marks upon it, and finding there were none, had polished it up and put it into stock. He never believed in wasting anything.

Upon certain nights gatherings were held in the big shed and then for an unknown person to enter, it was many times more difficult than to obtain an invitation for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. The visitors arrived through any of the four houses, and they nearly always came alone, as single units. Their hats, too, were generally pressed low down upon their foreheads and the collars of their coats turned up. They seldom spoke to one another, and when they left they were escorted out, one by one.

Ah Chung catered for one of the by products of civilisation that can be found in any of the big cities of the world, the educated and cultured depraved, who with all outward appearance of refinement, yet so gloat upon the infliction of suffering that no forms of cruelty fail to be appreciated, or are too strong for their palates.

* * *

Ah Chung was not aware that there was a scientific name for this cult, and that it was one, well recognised, among the classes of degenerates. All he knew was that he supplied a want and was well paid for doing so. It had taken him many years to build up the connection, and he had made the circle most exclusive, a guinea being the invariable charge for admission.

The interior of the shed was arranged in the form of a miniature theatre, the stage, however, being in the middle. Well-cushioned seats, in three tiers, surrounded a large rat pit at the bottom. The pit was 12ft. square, and either inside, or upon a platform that could be speedily placed in position upon it, were staged the dramas that were so gratifying to Ah Chung's patrons. Save for the faint and diffused rays that escaped from a closely hooded arc-light that was swung directly over the pit, the whole place was always in darkness.

The events of the evening generally commenced with a score or so of large rats being introduced into the pit, to be followed by one or more excited and yelping fox-terriers, but in order that the enjoyment of the audience might be prolonged and the full flavour of everything obtained, the dogs were always muzzled. The muzzles, however, were provided at their ends with a short spike of a needle-like sharpness.

Then would follow an interesting ten minutes or quarter of an hour, until finally the unhappy rodents had been either bruised or spiked to death, not however, without having inflicted visible injuries upon the victorious terriers. Red shows up well upon a background of white.

Sometimes, instead of terriers, a cat would be introduced to deal with three or four rats, and then great enjoyment would be experienced by the playfulness with which she would pass from one rat to another, before giving them the final despatch.

Again, a muzzled cat, with her claws closely trimmed, would be put into the pit and two or three monkeys would provide entertainment by jumping upon her and plucking out handfuls of her fur.

Later, a platform would be thrown over the pit, and a huge cage placed in position, a fight between two large and savage dogs would be shown, or a series of cock-fights, or upon rare occasions an encounter between an ape and a dog.

Then the seats upon one side of the shed would be vacated and with Ah Chung's cinematograph coming into play, pictures smuggled into the country from all parts of the world would be thrown upon the screen. It but faintly suggests their nature to state that no censor upon earth would have passed them, either for public or private view, for apart from those of a wholly unmentionable kind, they always depicted incidents of horror or brutality.

And when everything was all over, Ah Chung, placid and respectful as a well-trained gentleman's servant, would stand by the door, and as he collected payment, whisper the date of the next meeting, and often add that he was expecting then to have something yet more interesting to show.

* * *

One night after one of these gatherings, when the chimes of midnight were just sounding, a well-dressed man alighted from a taxi-cab in Cavendish Square, and proceeded to walk briskly along until he came to a house at the junction of Wimpole and Queen Anne Streets. Taking a latch-key from his pocket, he was about to insert it in the door when he was accosted by another man, who came gliding up like a shadow from the area railings, where he had evidently been waiting, of set purpose.

"Professor Batcher, I believe," said this second man, and receiving a cold nod in answer, he asked. "Can I speak to you for a few minutes?"

"Speak," was the curt rejoinder, and the professor immediately slipped the hand that had been holding the latch-key into one of the side pockets of his overcoat.

"But I should like to have the few words with you inside your house," said the other. He lowered his voice, and added, "I, too, was at Ah Chung's to-night."

The professor gave an almost imperceptible start, but he replied quite steadily, "I don't understand. I don't know what you mean."

"Oh, yes you do," came the quick response, "and although I always wear dark glasses at Ah Chung's, you will recognise me at once. See," the speaker snapped a little electric torch full on to his own face for a few seconds. "It was I," he went on, "who asked you for a match to-night, just when that bulldog had got the Alsatian by the throat."

A moment's silence followed upon the torch being extinguished, and then the professor asked sharply, "Well, what do you want?"

"I have a proposition to put before you," replied the man with the torch. He shook his head quickly. "No, you needn't be afraid. It's not money I'm after, for I've plenty of that, and I'm not connected with the police. It's a comrade I am looking for, and I should never have dared to approach you, if I had not been certain that you were a suitable one."

"How did you learn my name?" asked the professor, and there was nothing in the sternness of his tone to suggest that the explanation had in any way tended to inspire confidence in him.

"In the same way that I have learned everything else about you," laughed the man softly, "by extended and patient inquiries." He spoke quickly. "I have been interested in you for many months. Your name is not Batcher. It is Libbeus, Joseph Libbeus, and you are a doctor of medicine, a graduate of London University. You are——"

"No, no," broke in the professor angrily, "you are quite mistaken. You have been wrongly informed."

"You are 39 years of age," went on the stranger, as if he had not heard the interruption, "and ten years ago came under the notice of the police, when a woman patient of yours died. You were sentenced to five years' penal servitude, and your name was removed from the Medical Register. Upon your release from prison you went to Shanghai, but three years ago you returned to this country, and set up here as an expert upon diet and slimming. Nearly all of your patients are women, and you are doing well, but without being aware of your real identity, the police have recently become suspicious that you are engaged upon the same work that got you into trouble before. They have set two traps for you within the past five weeks, but you escaped them both and——"

The professor made a gesture of impatience. "That'll do," he exclaimed sharply. He took out his latch-key again and thrust it in the door. "Come in and we'll have that talk you want." He paused a moment and then added menacingly. "But you be careful to play no tricks, for I warn you I am armed."

"Yes," remarked the stranger quietly, "you have a knuckle-duster in your pocket. I felt it when I was sitting next to you at Ah Chung's."

* * *

The father of Miss Cynthia Cramm kept the Gibbet Inn, situated midway between the pretty little Sussex villages of Hartfield and Maresfield, upon the beautiful stretch of road running on the uplands through Ashdown Forest.

Miss Cramm had turned sixteen years of age, but she did not look fourteen. She was small and skinny, with an alert, quick, little face, and eyes as bright as a bird's, and what she did not know of life was of no interest or she would have learnt it.

Essentially a product of these modern times, she knew more than her grandmother did, and could have told that old lady things that would have caused her to uplift her hands in horror, and dim her horn-rimmed spectacles with tears.

She read every line of the two daily newspapers that were taken at the inn, including the advertisements, and was particularly interested in the divorce news. She held strong views upon certain burning social questions, and did not hesitate to express her disapproval that she had been followed into the world by five more little Cramms.

"We could not afford it," she snapped decisively, "and in consequence father is not now able to give us the education that he should."

She smoked when she could do so without her father seeing her, used powder and a lip-stick when she went out with her boy friends, and also she already boasted of preferences in the matter of cocktails. Her great ambition was to go on the films.

Romantically situated with beautiful views on all sides, the Gibbet Inn did a good trade, and Mrs. Cramm's Sunday luncheons were known far and wide. The house had become a favourite place of call for the motoring world, and quite apart from the food being always well-cooked and daintily served, the nomenclature itself of the inn was attractive, for people liked to tell their friends that they had 'lunched at the Gibbet.' The inn had prospered, and a commodious dining room had been built on. This room contained a long table running down the centre of the room and a much smaller one, placed just under the widow at the far end. On Sundays three smartly-attired maids attended to the wants of the visitors.

* * *

One certain Sunday morning then, in the last week of June, towards half-past twelve, when all was bustle and preparation for the midday meal, and Thomas Cramm was busy in the bar, Miss Cramm was ordered by her mother to iron the aprons for two of her little sisters, and she flatly refused to do anything of the kind. Not that the young lady had any objection to the ironing on Sabbatarian grounds. She had no scruples there, but she had been up late the night before at a party, and was feeling tired, and it happened, too, that at that moment when her services were required by her mother, she was busy watching from an upper window a handsome young couple who had just driven a very smart little two-seater into the yard and were now going lovingly over the bodywork with a duster. From the luggage strapped on the back Miss Cramm was of opinion that they were a honeymoon couple, and always romantically inclined, she was considering as to whether they had been married the previous day, and did not want to be disturbed in attempting to deduce from the glances they kept on giving to one another, whether she were right or not, in her conjecture.

So, when the order from her mother arrived by one of the maids she sent back a curt message that she should not comply with the request. Her mother was furious, for already twice that morning Cynthia had been impertinent, or in the vernacular, had given her parent 'lip,' so now the latter, very red in the face, left the pressing duties in the kitchen and came running upstairs to administer suitable chastisement.

But Cynthia heard her coming, and reluctantly tearing herself away from the window, escaped through another door, banging it to behind her in her mother's face.

"All right, you dreadful child," shouted Mrs. Cramm stertorously. "I'll fetch your father at once."

Now her father was the only person whom Cynthia really feared, for he was of quick temper and had a heavy hand. It was fresh in her memory, too, that not a week before, when following upon a very one-sided encounter with him, she had later sat down at the piano to play her favourite piece, 'The Lost Chord,' she had had to put an extra cushion upon the piano-stool to escape actual physical discomfort.

So when a couple of minutes or so later, Mr. Cramm came tearing upstairs to 'have a few words,' it is not surprising that Miss Cramm was nowhere to be found. Not only was she not visible in any of the upper rooms, but a hasty search of the ground floor revealed no sign of her presence there either, and so the landlord of the Gibbet Inn, with an ugly look upon his face, that undoubtedly presaged more physical discomfort for his daughter when he could lay hands upon her, returned fuming, into the bar.

There were twenty-seven luncheons served that day—the police were afterwards able to verify that. One party of six, two of four, five of two, and three parties who came alone. At least that was how the bills were paid, according to the very accurate bookkeeping of Mrs. Cramm, but the head-waitress who collected the money at the tables, later told a rather peculiar tale. She said that where one bill was seemingly paid for a party of four people lunching there together, it was actually discharged for the meals of four separate individuals, who came in singly, sat apart from one another at the long table, and had no conversation together until all the other lunchers had left the room. Then suddenly, in her momentary absence, they had all moved to the small table under the window, and a call being made for liqueurs and a bottle of the best port, they had at once started to talk amiably together, as if they were old friends.

She remembered the incident distinctly, because the one who had ordered the port asked that they should be left undisturbed for a little while, and the time extending for longer than an hour, it had hindered the clearing away and the setting of the table for the expected afternoon teas. It had been most inconvenient.

And the story of the waitress was quite correct, except in one particular, for after the four lunchers had moved over to the small table they had not started at once to talk amiably together as old friends. On the contrary, three of them had appeared to be very distrustful of one another, and if the waitress had been of a more observant nature she would have noted that it was only the fourth man who was smiling, and that the others looked very angry.

What really happened was this. The four men partook of their meal, quietly and unobtrusively and as if they had no interest except in the fare provided. The meal consisted of boiled cod and oyster sauce, roast chicken and roast duck, cherry tart, and a beautiful ripe Stilton cheese.

They had kept pace with the other lunchers until the sweet had been served, and then, all at once, they had begun to dawdle and eat very slowly, at the same time assuming thoughtful and lethargic airs. It seemed as if none of them were in any hurry and almost, as if of set purpose, they each one wanted to outstay everybody else.

But a stout couple were most unduly interested in the Stilton cheese, and returning many times to the attack, it was nearly half past two before these latter rose from their seats and the four men were the only occupants of the room.

Then the appearance of casual indifference upon the face of one of them passed instantly away, and his knife falling with a sharp click on to his plate, he made a motion with his arm embracing the other three, and remarked quietly, but very distinctly, "Gentlemen, the password is 'the rat-pit of Ah Chung,' and you are all three my guests." His face expanded into a broad smile. "We are old friends."

But there was certainly no appearance of friendliness upon the faces of the others, indeed annoyance almost to the point of positive anger seemed to possess them. They looked most suspiciously at one another, and then turned back to glare balefully at the man who had spoken.

The latter raised a big fat hand in protest. "No, no, don't be upset," he said, reassuringly, and in a pleasant, cultured voice, "for at any rate no harm is done, and if you do not wish it, you can continue to remain unknown to one another, and part as perfect strangers in a few minutes." He glanced in the direction of the door, and spoke very quickly. "I thought it best to bring you all together in this way, for I have made exactly the same proposition to each one of you, and if any of you so decide, you can withdraw in perfect safety from any association with me, and it can be then as if we had never met."

He rose up from his chair. "But now, let us move over to that small table and we'll just talk things over for a little while. You can at least hear what I have to say." He smiled. "For the moment you can call me 'Mr. X,' and you gentlemen"—he pointed at them, each in turn, "can be Messrs. A, B, and C."

After a moment's hesitation, but without speaking a single word, the three men rose up, too, and followed him over to the table by the window. They were just seated when one of the maids returned into the room, and, as we have heard the order was then given for a bottle of port and liqueurs.

Once more by themselves, and the door closed again, the man who had taken charge of the proceedings leant forward over the table and regarded his companions with an amused smile. He was not by any means an unpleasant man to look upon, and the first impression he would have given anyone was of amiable and carefree good nature, of medium height and decidedly upon the stout side, he was of a dark and well-tanned complexion. His eyebrows were big and busy, and he sported a neatly trimmed black beard. His eyes were large and fearless, and it was only his lips that would have been displeasing to a reader of character, for they were full and sensual. However, in repose, he had the habit of keeping them pressed lightly together and in that way their defects were not so apparent to the casual observer. He was very short-necked, and he had fat hands, upon the finger of one of which he sported a diamond ring, with a stone of exquisite quality.

He started to renew the conversation at once. "I regret, gentlemen," he said melodiously, and with the glib tongue of the practised speaker, "if any of you should regard it as a breach of confidence my having thus gathered you here together, when each one of you expected you would be the only one to be meeting me, but when you have heard my explanation and all I have to tell you, I am sure you will acquit me of any charge of trickery, and will as readily admit that I am exposing none of you to any risk by this meeting."

He laughed slyly. "It may surprise you to learn that I have been occupied for the best part of two years in finding out all I could about you three, and it is only after long and patient inquiries, and the expenditure of considerable sums of money that I feel at last justified in risking my safety in your hands." He sighed. "There should, indeed, have been a fourth guest with us to-day, but, unhappily, last week he passed away with great suddenness, in fact, to make no mystery of it,"——his eyes twinkled—"he was hanged at the Old Bailey."

One of his audience, the one he had pointed to as Mr. B., a square-jawed man with heavy features and small, suspicious-looking eyes, here ejaculated hoarsely and as if involuntarily "Clive Belgian! You had approached him?"

"No," replied Mr. X., smilingly, "but I was upon the point of doing so, when three months ago he was unfortunate enough to get apprehended after he had shot that caretaker in Hume Buildings. I had had my eye upon him for some time, for I was sure he would prove a most valuable addition to our party. He was very capable, absolutely unscrupulous, and without a grain of pity in him." He laughed again. "You have had considerable dealings with him, have you not, Mr. B.?" Then as the man addressed apparently showed no intention of making any reply, he went on quickly. "But to return to the purpose for which we are assembled here." He spoke most impressively. "Now, straightaway, you can take it for granted, you are all three quite secured against the treachery of one another, for you are all engaged in unlawful undertakings, and it would be dangerous to the last degree for any one of you to——"

"What about yourself?" broke in a third man sharply, an uncommon-looking man with a high forehead and good facial angle, but most unprepossessing appearance, because the bony construction of his face was so pronounced, it seemed to be stretching the livid skin that covered it, almost to breaking point. "What about yourself? We know nothing about you?"

Mr. X. smiled. "But you soon shall do, my friend," he replied, "for when I proceed to chapter and verse about the law-breaking proclivities of you three, I shall be equally open regarding my own." He went on. "Now within the last few weeks I have approached each of you in turn recalling to you, firstly, that you have each suffered at the hands of this so-called society, under whose laws we live—as a matter of fact only one of us here has not served a term of imprisonment, and that individual is not I—and, secondly, that you all should have vengeances to exact. Accordingly, I have suggested that you should join with me to mete out—not only to the particular people concerned, but to the community generally—the punishments that are undoubtedly deserved." He looked from one to the other. "Now that is the sole line I have taken, is it not, vengeance upon our particular enemies, and, in a broad way, making the community suffer as we have suffered?"

A short silence followed, and he received a nod of decisive, if sullen, agreement from each one before he resumed. "Well, before I approached any of you, I made sure that your temperaments were such that you would be willing to exact your vengeances if you could, and also, would be wholly callous to any suffering that you inflicted." He laughed softly again. "Ah Chung's entertainments were a good school in which to try you out."

"Come to the point," growled the man with the face of tightly-drawn skin. "We are not going to stop here for ever."

"Patience, my friend," retorted the stout man. "I am coming to it now." He spoke most impressively. "The exact position then is this. We are none of us, by any means, poor men and I——am a very rich one. If all of you were paupers, I have yet ample means to finance the whole project." He struck the table lightly with his hand. "So, all I want is comrades. Men of sufficient strength of character to help me carry out my vengeance, along with their own. Then we shall enjoy together the punishments we inflict." He threw out his hands. "What pleasure is there in drinking alone, and how much greater enjoyment then will be——"

"But how are we to know you have the means you say you have?" asked the fourth man brusquely. "It may be that this is only a trap you are setting for us, and you may be only out for common blackmail. That diamond in your ring, even, may be spurious and——"

The stout man instantly plucked the ring from his finger and handed it across the table to Mr. B. "He'll tell you," he laughed in great good humour, "for he is the biggest buyer of stolen gems in London, and the police have been looking for him for years."

Mr. B. with no expression upon his face took the ring and examined it. "Worth £200," he remarked laconically. He half smiled. "I should give you £30 cash if it came to me on the way of business."

"And how could I have found out all about you that I have," asked the stout man, "unless I had been able to spend, and spend freely." He shook his fat forefinger playfully at the man who had questioned his financial stability. "Why, to find out what I have found out about you alone, has cost me more than £1000, for I had to send a private inquiry agent expressly over to Shanghai, and all the time I was having you watched, day by day, by other agents over here." He looked round upon them all. "But I'll soon convince you on the score of what means I possess. Listen, I'll tell you a story—a story with a sequel to it."

No one made any comment, and after a few moments he went on. "Now cast your minds back to 15 years ago when the Cosmopolitan Investment Company came into the boom. A new star in finance had appeared, Oscar Bascoigne, a man in the early thirties, and I am sure you will all remember him. Good! Well, he floated that company with a capital of £2,000,000 and attracted the investments of people all over the English-speaking world. He was a dear personal friend of mine, and when he crashed and was sent down for seven years for fraudulent company promoting, I was perhaps the only person who grieved for him. He served more than five years of his sentence and then was released upon ticket of leave. He——"

"Ought to have been a lifer," broke in the man with the tightly drawn skin. "He deserved nothing less."

The stout man ignored the interruption. "——he went over to Santiago and there, with some thousands of pounds that he had secreted before the crash came, made a huge fortune out of nitrates, more than £1,000,000. Then he died, leaving everything to me, with the injunction, however, that in return I should avenge the wrong that had been done him, for he had been convicted under the direction of a servile and unjust Judge, urged on by the lies and calumnies of the prosecution for the Crown. This last fellow handed out the usual flap-doodle that every one who had rushed in for the gamble were innocent and confiding creatures, and that Bascoigne had robbed the widows and the fatherless and brought ruin upon countless homes." He thumped again upon the table. "Now do you understand my motives and believe that I have ample means?"

The man with the death-mask face smiled coldly. "Yes, I believe you," he said, "for you are Bascoigne himself, I should not have recognised you, but I have heard you at the company's meetings and remember now that oily voice." He spoke quite passionlessly. "Curse you! I lost £2000 that I could ill spare at the time, and you ruined my poor old mother when your company failed. You are a great scoundrel."

The stout man was by no means abashed, instead, he laughed as if he were very amused. "And when you add to that," he said, "the fact that in leaving England I broke my ticket-of-leave, and in consequence there is still a warrant out for my apprehension, you will appreciate how thoroughly I am one of you—an outcast from society, and the prey of the Law if it can lay its hands upon me."

"But you are not being open with us, as you made out you were," said the square-jawed man angrily. "This confession that you are Bascoigne has been forced upon you."

"Not at all," replied Bascoigne warmly. "I could have denied it, and our friend here had no proof. Besides, did I not commence my little story by telling you that it had a sequel? And if you had waited for that sequel you would have learnt at the end that if Bascoigne, the financier, had died"—he looked very grim—"yet as Mr. X. he has now risen from the dead to wreak vengeance upon his enemies."

Then with a quick movement he thrust his hand into the pocket of his jacket and drew out a long packet, wrapped in brown paper. "And now for this last proof," he said sharply, as he proceeded to draw off the wrapping. "Ten one-thousand pounds Government bonds-to-bearer. Exactly 49 numbers between each one of them, and I possess the lot, locked securely in my safe." His smile was proud and arrogant. "Half a million pounds, gentlemen, and that by no means represents the whole of my possessions. So now will you throw in your fortunes with mine and obtain the revenges for which I know you crave?"

A long silence followed, and then the man with the bony face nodded. "Yes, I will," he said. "My liver is cirrhosed, and I know I have not long to live. I should like to settle a few accounts before I go."

"I'm willing, too," said the square-jawed man savagely. "I'd swing happily if I could obtain all the revenge I want, first."

"Agreed," said the third man, quietly. "Life is humdrum, and it will be an adventure to punish the man who ruined me."

"Yes, yes, as you say, life is humdrum," exclaimed Bascoigne, excitedly, and speaking with intense passion, "and we will not stop only at the gratification of our private vengeances, but will wage relentless war upon the society that has hounded us down. We will bring a chilling fear into its smug and hypocritical heart, and from a hundred bloody deeds it shall learn that an avenger stalks the land. We will——" but overcome by the vehemence of his emotion, he paused to get his breath, and then before he could resume the boney-faced man broke in.

"A drug-taker, eh? No! well you look like one to me, anyhow!" He shrugged his shoulders. "I take chloral myself." He laughed grimly. "Really, we shall be dangerous maniacs let loose among the community, if we are going to act as you suggest."

Bascoigne pulled himself together, and his voice dropped into crisp and business-like tones. "But now," he announced, "I'll make all the necessary introductions."

Uneasy looks came at once into the faces of the other men, but he went on emphatically. "Yes, it is absolutely necessary that we should know all about one another, so that there may be perfect confidence between us all, and the full realisation that any treachery among us—and we all fall together."

"Well, go on," said the man who had just admitted he took chloral, testily, "and get it over, quick. You are not addressing the Cosmopolitan Investment Company now. You have been too verbose all along."

Bascoigne bowed ironically. "Myself first, then gentlemen," he said. "Once Convict Bascoigne, and now Sheldon Brown, Esq., of The Pines, Crowborough, and 25 Charles Street, Mayfair. A Justice of the Peace for the county of Sussex, and the well-known philanthropist who gave £50,000 to the London Hospital last year. Next,"—and he turned to the last speaker—"Sir Charles Carrion, Baronet, of 47 Harley Street, the one-time eminent surgeon with all England at his feet. Three years incarceration in a private lunatic asylum, however, has somewhat detracted from his professional popularity, and his practice may now be considered small."

A look of rage came into the face of Sir Charles. "I was only certified by my rivals," he snarled savagely, "and whatever I am now, I was perfectly sane then. It was a vile conspiracy hatched to get me out of the way. Hell! I'd join hands with the devil himself to get my revenge."

Bascoigne smiled and went on. "But Sir Charles's activities are by no means confined to his practice in Harley Street, for he runs an unregistered vivisection laboratory in his commodious residence at Hampstead. He has been refused any sort of licence by the authorities, but nevertheless operates, and without anaesthetics, too. He has a private burial ground in the large garden surrounding his house, and if I am not very much mistaken," here he pretended to cough apologetically, "bodies have been buried there that are not only those of dumb animals. Three months ago, he had some sort of disagreement with his butler, who was threatening to report the vivisections to the authorities, and the next day the butler disappeared. The man was supposed to have left the district, but I am of opinion that he never went far away and if a certain spot behind a big elm tree were dug over——"

"Nothing would be found," broke in Sir Charles with a contemptuous smile. "The precautions I took were——"

"But the purchase of such a large quantity of chemicals would have to be explained," interrupted Bascoigne sharply, "and you seem not to be aware that your butler had four gold crowns, and was wearing artificial teeth set upon a platinum plate." He looked amused. "Now, none should know better than you that both gold and platinum are unaffected by nitric acid."

Sir Charles Carrion scowled but made no comment, and Bascoigne continued. "Well, that finishes with Sir Charles for the moment, and from what I have just outlined, I think we others need have no fear that tales will ever be carried to quarters where they are not wanted. We are quite safe, I am sure."

He pointed now to a small dark man, with a sallow oval face and a beard, trimmed and pointed, that suggested the artist. "And here is another medical man, a one-time Dr. Joseph Libbeus, a Hebrew of course, and an M.D., London." He broke off as if an idea had struck him, and asked quickly. "Then you didn't recognise Sir Charles, Doctor. I was half expecting you would."

"No," was the quiet reply. "I have heard of him, of course, and Humanity will always be indebted to him for his 'Surgery of the Abdomen,' but I have never seen him before." He inclined his head politely in the direction of Sir Charles. "He is a great man."

The surgeon smiled coldly and Bascoigne continued. "Well, fifteen years ago, Dr. Libbeus was one of the most brilliant students who had ever qualified from St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and before he was nine and twenty he had become a recognised authority upon 'toxicology.'" He rubbed his hands as if very pleased. "His knowledge of poisons will be most useful to us." He went on. "But a great calamity overtook him, for, in financial difficulties and tempted by the big fee of two hundred guineas, he performed a certain operation and the woman died. He might, however, have escaped all consequences of his action but for the hostility of a brother practitioner, and tried at the Old Bailey, he was sentenced to five years penal servitude, from which he emerged six years ago. He went to Shanghai, and obtained employment in a factory for the production of high explosives—here, again, he is the very man we want—but unhappily, strong suspicion arose in that city that he had administered poison to the husband of a lady with whom he was on friendly terms, and he was fortunate to be able to escape from the country before matters came to a head. As much altered in appearance as I am, because bearded, and an habitual opium addict, he——"

"That's neither here nor there," broke in Dr. Libbeus angrily. "I take my opium pill just as you take your alcohol or your tobacco." He made a sharp motion with his hand. "Keep off unnecessary personalities, please."

"——he returned to England," continued Bascoigne, as if he had not heard the interruption, "and, as Professor Batcher, now carries on a highly unlawful practice at 275 Queen Ann's Street. Two of his patients have died recently, but forging the name of a Dr. Anthony Harden of Kew, whom he has ascertained is at the present moment travelling abroad, he has had no difficulty in getting them interred in the customary manner."

Dr. Libbeus was moistening his dry lips with his tongue and his face had gone an ashen grey, but Sir Charles Carrion looked highly amused.

"A most excellent joke!" he chuckled. "Most excellent! It happens I know Harden quite well, and his eyes would pop out in horror if he knew what had been certified over his name. He is a smug, sanctimonious man, and the acme of unctuous respectability." He turned and patted Dr. Libbeus in a most friendly fashion upon the shoulder. "But see here, sir—next time you want a certificate of death, come straight to me and I'll give it you. Then you won't be running any risks. I'm not fussy and shall be quite prepared to certify to anything you want."

Dr. Libbeus at once recovered his composure and the blood returned to his face. "Thank you very much indeed, Sir Charles," he said warmly, "I shall be most grateful to you."

Bascoigne rubbed his hands together again. "That's right," he said gleefully. "I was certain we should all become good friends." He turned to the fourth man, the one with the determined jaw. "Now for Mr. Edward Mason, a prosperous estate-agent of Mile End Road. His real name is Sabine Guildford, and he is, or was, a member of the legal profession, but in 1915 he speculated with funds entrusted to his care and an unsympathetic judge ordered him free board and lodging for five years at the expense of his Majesty. Of course, too, he was struck off the Rolls."

"If they had given me three weeks' grace," interrupted Guildford fiercely, "they would have got back every penny I took, for the investment righted itself. But the Law Society would have its pound of flesh."

"Exactly," agreed Bascoigne, "it was the Law Society that drove you into the paths you subsequently took." He turned back to the others. "Well, at the expiration of his sentence, our friend proceeded to make his home in Mile End Road, and, with his profound knowledge of law, his enterprise, and his undoubted business ability, soon became a person of importance in the circle in which he now moves."

Guildford began to stir uneasily in his chair here and Bascoigne went on. "He is a blackmailer, he finances the elite of the criminal classes, and his house is a hiding place for them when they are pursued. He is a receiver of stolen goods, he is engaged in the dope traffic, and he forges passports for entry into every country in the world. Also, when the occasion is propitious, he does not hesitate to embark upon criminal adventures of his own." He laughed merrily. "That is so, Mr. Guildford, is it not?"

Guildford's face had assumed an ugly look and his beady eyes were blinking viciously. "Go on," he growled, "you seem to know more about me than I know myself."

Bascoigne beamed good humour and good nature. "But I have told you I have made it my business to find out everything about you all, and there is no exaggeration in anything I say." He spoke banteringly. "At any rate you must admit that for 10 days prior to the burglary at Lord Farleigh's at Stoke d'Aberon last month, and the very violent death of his gardener in the grounds—you were occupying that little cottage you rent in Oxshott Woods, close by, and you cannot deny that you had been making mysterious excursions from there in the dead of night, upon three or four occasions just before the burglary occurred." He pretended to look very grave. "So, the authorities if they are aware of it, might perhaps be inclined to think that you have been spying out the ground."


CHAPTER II.—"THE DRUMS OF WAR."

One Sunday afternoon towards the end of September, about three months after the events recorded in the last chapter, two men were seated in the crowded winter-garden of the Hotel Metropole at Brighton. One of them was a journalist, attached to the London 'Daily Cry,' and the other, a rubber planter, home on holiday from the Federated Malay States. The latter was reading a Sunday newspaper, and presently he threw it down.

"Well, really," he remarked carelessly, "this dear old England of ours does not seem the law-abiding place it used to be, and certainly its police are not nearly as efficient as in days gone by." His voice rose a little. "Why, here have I been home not a couple of months until next week, and yet I can recall at least four unsolved murders, and also a mysterious disappearance that looks darned like foul-play, too." He held out the newspaper to his companion. "And here's another outrage, I see, reported this morning, some one shooting at Lord Cornwall's car yesterday at Barnstead, and a bullet going through the window. What the devil was that done for, I wonder?"

The journalist declined the proferred paper. "I've already seen it, old man," he said. "It's interesting, but was possibly only an accident. Some one rabbiting, perhaps, on the common as the car went by, and maybe he didn't know what he had done."

"And when that clergyman was shot at Surbiton," remarked the planter sarcastically, "I suppose that was an accident, too! And when the old judge was killed at Eastbourne, and Lord Burkington at Harrogate—both accidents again!"

The journalist shook his head. "No, cold-blooded murders there," he said instantly, "and very mysterious, too." He shrugged his shoulders. "Still, among 50 million persons mysterious things are always happening, although, naturally, we don't always hear about them."

"But has it struck you, Travers," went on the planter, "that most of these johnnies who have struck trouble lately were at one time or other prominent in the particular circles in which they moved."

The journalist laughed. "Of course it has," he replied, "and that is why we remember about them. If Bill Bloggs had been killed in Whitechapel or Sam Stuckey at Mile End, matters might have been dismissed in two paragraphs and forgotten in two days, but the more prominent the person, naturally the more interested the public are when anything happens to him,"—he made a grimace—"and we newspaper men have to provide what they want. We cater for those interests."

"Well, your police must be pretty rotten, anyhow," said the planter, "to have made no discoveries at all."

The journalist laughed again. "And how do you know they haven't made any discoveries?" he asked. He nodded. "You be here another month, my friend, and then note how many of those mysteries are in the way of being cleared up."

* * *

A short silence followed, and the two friends interested themselves in regarding the company around them. It was the usual Sunday afternoon crowd of well-dressed men and beautifully-gowned women. People well known in society, business and professional men, people known in the art and literary worlds, owners of racehorses and sporting men, and a sprinkling of politicians.

"Well, and what do you think of them?" asked the journalist presently, turning back to his companion. "Notice any difference in the ten years you've been away?"

"No-o," replied the rubber planter hesitatingly, "except that there are more women smoking now, and the sweet creatures are more made-up than ever." He nodded appreciatively. "There are some lovely women here."

"Yes, lovely," agreed the journalist readily. He lowered his voice quickly. "Now, that girl opposite you is a perfect poem isn't she? Did you ever see more glorious eyes or a more beautiful profile? She's Lady Beeming, and that's her husband, not her grandfather sitting next to her. She's 20 and he's 65, and you'd swear from her appearance that the blood of a long line of noble ancestors ran through her veins." He smiled drily. "But you'd be quite mistaken, for her parents were little green-grocers in Hoxton, and three years ago, before she went into the chorus at Sadler's Wells she was assisting in the shop and——" he broke off suddenly and nodded in the direction of a tall, gaunt man, who had just passed their table, "But look! There's a party who is just as hideous as she is lovely!"

"Who is he?" asked the planter. "He looks a near relation of Satan to me."

"Sir Charles Carrion," whispered the journalist, "and once one of the world's greatest surgeons. Crowned heads were among his patients, and in abdominal surgery he was the mightiest wielder of the knife. But his success was a cup of poison to him and some years ago, he had a nervous breakdown, and dropped out of things altogether. He looks a corpse now, but, funnily enough, he's returned into society lately, and I'm always running up against him in my work. Ascot, Goodwood, Cowes—you see him everywhere."

"Go on," said his friend. "Tell me about some of the other people here. I don't mind a few lies as long as they are interesting."

The journalist pretended to look very angry. "Now, I've a darned good mind not to say another word, but as you shall now pay for this show, and I'm going to have another brandy, I'll overlook it this time." He looked round the spacious winter-garden. "Now, let me see. Whom else do I know? Ah! there's somebody interesting, if you like, that rather pretty looking man, sitting at that table alone, and appearing so bored. Now what would you make of him?"

His friend looked in the direction indicated. "An artist," he replied after a moment. "Good-looking himself, and certainly a lover of the beautiful."

"Exactly," nodded the journalist, "and a purloiner of it, too." He spoke impressively. "That man, my friend, hails from Paris, and until recently was supposed to be one of the most active and expert thieves in France—Raphael Croupin. Haven't you heard of him?"

The planter shook his head. "A gaol bird!" he frowned. "Well, he doesn't look like one. What's he doing here?"

"Oh! he's quite respectable and a rich man now," the other laughed. "One of his admirers, a wealthy old countess, died at the beginning of this year and left him a huge fortune, but before that, as I say, it was believed everywhere that he was a burglar—if a burglar of a very uncommon kind. He only took paintings of the old masters, old tapestries, historic jewels, and art treasures of great value. It was believed to be well-known to the authorities what he was doing, but they were never able to bring the robberies home to him. He has been up for trial three times and acquitted upon each occasion, because of water-tight alibies that could not be broken down. It was the joke of all France, and he was really a most popular character, for he only stole from the very rich and disbursed large sums in charity to the hospitals and among the very poor."

The planter looked very amused. "Continue, my dear Travers," he said smilingly. "You are most entertaining. Any more celebrities here?"

His friend looked round. "Yes," he said, "there's a Cabinet Minister over there, Lord Ransome, that rather stout man, threading his way through the tables. He's the Home Secretary, and that's his daughter with him. Oh! oh!"—he exclaimed, becoming all at once quite animated—"now, there's some romance for you. See the people he's sitting down with? Well, they are Gilbert Larose, and his wife, who was once the wealthy widow, Lady Ardane." He gripped his companion by the arm. "Two years ago, Travers, that man was just an ordinary policeman, a detective who used to be sent anywhere and everywhere by Scotland Yard, and now, to-day, he's married to one of the richest women in the kingdom, and lives almost in royal state at Carmel Abbey in Norfolk."

"I've heard of him," said the planter, very interested. "He was the star detective of Australia." He drew in a deep breath. "Gad! his wife's beautiful! I always did admire red hair. What a lovely creature!"

"Yes, and there were scores of people who wanted her," added the journalist, "and would have taken her without a penny piece, because of the beauty of that red head. She might have married into the peerage any day." He sighed. "Larose is a lucky fellow."

"But how did he manage it?" asked his friend.

"Merit, my boy, just merit," was the instant reply, "and he deserves everything he's got, for he won her in the old-fashioned way, by saving her from her enemies. She was kidnapped and he rescued her at the risk of his own life, which, however, was nothing to him, for in his career he's been in more dangers than anyone can conceive." He sighed again. "Yes, it was a real love-match and they worship each other and the red-haired little daughter that's come."

"And good luck to him!" said the planter. "He looks a gentleman and a man of fine character." He screwed up his eyes. "But how did people take it? What did society say?"

"Society!" laughed the journalist. "Well, Society was aghast!" His voice hardened. "But if anyone thought they were going to put one over Gilbert Larose, they were very much mistaken, for he just dropped into his place as if he'd been born to it. A strong character, nice manners, and a charming personality, he won over everybody at once, and to-day, at any public function in Norfolk, he's the biggest 'draw' you can get. Next to Royalty, he's the most popular attraction at any show, and his wife's immensely proud of him."

"A policeman once," commented the planter after a moment's silence, "and now that old aristocrat is smiling at him, almost as if he had a boon to crave."

And had he only known it, the planter from Malay was quite right then, for although Lord Ransome had entered the winter-garden with no idea of meeting Gilbert Larose, the instant he had caught sight of him and his wife, he had immediately stopped, of set purpose, and with a gallant bow to Mrs. Larose, had held out his hand to her.

"And may we join you?" he asked, and at once receiving permission, he went on smilingly. "I see you are just as charming as ever, Mrs. Larose, and you don't look a day older than when I fell in love with your portrait in the academy—let me see, it must be six or seven years ago."

Mrs. Larose shook her head reprovingly. "Now, that's not nice of you, Lord Ransome," she laughed, "to remind me all that time has passed. You don't seem to realise that I am now fighting the years."

"No, I certainly do not," laughed back his lordship, "for there are no signs of warfare about you." He bowed again. "I am sure I can congratulate your distinguished husband upon the care he is taking of you." He turned to Larose. "Ah! that reminds me, sir, I've heard you're a most outstanding success upon the Bench. My friend, the Chief Constable of Norfolk, informs me that offenders are delighted to be brought up before you,"—he made a grimace—"for you either pay their fines yourself or let them off altogether."

"Oh! no," laughed Larose, "it's not quite as bad as that, Lord Ransome. Certainly, I always——"

"But he's not complaining," broke in his lordship quickly. "On the contrary, for he says you are exerting a most splendid influence, and it has become almost a point of honour with the offenders not to be brought up again. For instance, I understand that there is no poaching at all now within many miles of Carmel Abbey."

"But my husband bribes them," smiled Mrs. Larose. "He gives them all a day's shooting every now and then, and makes me send out lunch, too," she shook her head. "He's breaking all traditions and I can't do anything with him."

They chatted animatedly together for a few minutes, Mrs. Larose telling of the delightful holiday she and her husband had been having for nearly three months in Switzerland, and how they had arrived only the previous day at Newhaven and were proceeding home on the morrow to Carmel Abbey. Then Lord Ransome turned to Larose and remarked carelessly, "Well, it's rather fortunate I met you here this afternoon, for I've been wanting for some time to have a little talk with you about your greyhounds. I have thought of entering one of mine for the Waterloo Cup, and should be most grateful to you for some advice." He made an almost imperceptible movement with his eyebrows. "Now, what about coming up to my room for a few minutes? I am sure the ladies will excuse us."

Larose regarded the great man curiously. He had only met him once before, and was sure, upon such a slight acquaintanceship, the Home Secretary would not now be inviting him to a private talk unless for some particular purpose quite unconnected with dogs. He had noted the expressive movement of the eyebrows, however, and so at once, falling in with the suggestion, rose from his chair and proceeded to accompany his lordship from the winter garden.

* * *

They ascended a few floors in the lift, and then, in a cosy little private sitting room, Lord Ransome motioned him to an armchair. His lordship had become all at once a very different man to the genial and bowing courtier of the winter garden. His bearing now was one of authority, and his features set in stern and uncompromising lines he looked the outstanding personality in politics that he was. He opened the conversation at once.

"Mr. Larose," he said solemnly, "it was Fate or Providence that took me into the winter garden just now, for you have been a lot in my mind during the last twenty-four hours, and, indeed, I was intending, in any case, to get in touch with you tomorrow." He eyed him intently. "Now, did your ears burn last night? No! Well, they ought to have done, for quite a number of people were talking about you,"—he spoke impressively—"and in not unexalted circles either." He waited a moment to let the information soak in, and then rapped out—

"You're wanted back in Scotland Yard, my friend. That's the trouble. You've got to get back into harness again."

Larose looked very astonished and sat bolt upright in his chair. He had certainly been expecting some confidence, but not a request of that nature and, for the moment, it quite took his breath away.

Lord Ransome glanced quickly at his watch and went on. "Now, we can only stay here about twenty minutes, for it'll be unwise to absent ourselves longer. Heaven only knows who's in that winter garden, and I don't want to see any tittle-tattle in the newspapers to-morrow, that the Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Mr. Gilbert Larose were closetted together for two hours. No, there must be none of that, for happenings are occurring that must be dealt with in the utmost secrecy." He hooded his eyes under his shaggy brows. "Then you don't guess why you are wanted back?"

Larose shook his head. "I am out of touch altogether with things over here," he replied. "We have been tucked away for nearly three months in the heart of the Bernese Oberland and have heard very little news."

"But haven't you read in the Swiss newspapers," asked Lord Ransome incredulously, "what's been happening over here?"

"What do you mean?" asked Larose quickly. "You see, sir, we didn't often get newspapers where we were, and when they did come they gave very little English news. What is it, you say, has happened?"

"Then you didn't hear," asked his lordship, "that Sir John Lorraine had been murdered?"

"The judge!" exclaimed Larose. "Oh! yes, I heard of that and also that Lord Burkington had been shot."

Lord Ransome looked scornful. "Those are only two of our problems," he said sharply. "We heard many others." He rose abruptly from his chair and going over to a suitcase, unlocked it, and after a few moments' search abstracted a sheet of paper from among others in a bulky packet. "See, here, Mr. Larose," he said, shaking his head angrily. "To put it bluntly—six persons have been murdered in the last ten weeks, and in not one single instance have the local police or Scotland Yard been able to lay hands upon the murderers, also——"

"Six!" broke in Larose. "All in the same neighbourhood!"

"No," was the testy reply, "all over the country, also, as I was about to add when you interrupted, it is by chance, only, that wholesale destruction has not followed upon further outrages of a most terrible nature." He lowered his voice very solemnly. "But the sinister aspect of the whole thing is—we know now we are facing what is undoubtedly the unfinished series of these dreadful crimes, for within the last few days it has come to our knowledge in a most strange and startling manner that these widely-scattered outrages may not be considered as isolated happenings, but are the work of a gang of individuals who for some mad reason are declaring war upon the community."

The heart of Larose gave a great bound. He was like an old war-horse who hears the rumbling of the guns.

Lord Ransome nodded angrily. "Yes, and it is childish for some very superior persons to insist that the idea is far-fetched that such a gang can exist." His eyes glared. "Why, in every country of the world there are people who think they have been badly treated and who would inflict any injury they could upon their fellow men if they got the chance. So it has only to happen that a number of such wretches become acquainted and learn the bent of one another's minds for them to pool their common hatreds to obtain revenge."

He laid the paper upon the table and, beckoning to Larose to come nearer, pointed with one long and white forefinger.

"Here is the complete list," he said, "up to Thursday last, as tabulated for me by the Chief Commissioner of Police. Look, number one—the Honourable Sir John Lorraine, of Merton Court, Eastbourne. Age 74. Murdered on July 25th last. Bludgeoned in broad daylight in a lane, close near his home. Number two—Archdeacon Lendon, of Canterbury. Age 63. Shot, when sitting on the lawn of Mrs. Fox-Drummond's house at Surbiton. Number three—Lord Burkington, of The Hall, Harrogate. Age 65. Shot through the broken window of his own dining-room on August 25th. Number four—Dr. Bellew of Great Leighs, Essex. Age 65. Stabbed to death in his garden with a knife wound through his heart!"

He went on. "Number five—Anthony Clutterbuck, of York Terrace, Regents Park and Chancery Lane. The well-known solicitor. Age 62. Last seen upon the seawall of Canvey Island on the afternoon of September 12th, but his broken and bloodied spectacles and a bloodied glove, picked up later in one of the adjoining fields, point most unmistakably to foul play and that his body was thrown into the sea. Number six—Mr. Samuel Wiggins, of Leigh-on-Sea. Age 62. A retired tea-broker. Stabbed to death on the Esplanade there on the night of September 13th."

He tapped the paper with his finger. "Those are their successes, Mr. Larose," he said grimly, "and their failures—an attack upon Lord Cornwall yesterday, when two bullets, not one, as reported, struck his car—a large bomb that did not go off in St. Paul's Cathedral, and an abortive attempt to throw some twenty-odd pounds of arsenic into the Kingston Reservoir." He nodded. "But I am giving you inside information now, and neither of these two last happenings has been reported in the Press."

"Good Heavens!" exclaimed Larose, his eyes glued to the paper, "what a dreadful list!" He looked up quickly and asked, "but what happened to the bomb?"

"The clockwork arrangement stopped," replied Lord Ransome. "The bomb was brought into the cathedral on the Saturday afternoon, three weeks ago, and left under one of the seats. It was flat in shape, with its covering of canvas painted to exactly harmonise with the stone floor. The hand of the clock was set to go off at half-past eleven on the Sunday morning." He drew in a deep breath. "Oh! it was damnable! It would have exploded in the middle of Divine Service."

"And that attempt to poison the reservoir?" asked Larose.

"Was foiled by the merest chance," was the reply, "and it came about like this. An old clergyman living close near the reservoir had lost his parrot, and as he had offered a reward for its recovery all the boys in the neighbourhood were on the look out for it, and two of them about nine o'clock at night on the Saturday of the week before last climbed over the high fence surrounding the reservoir on the chance of finding the bird inside. Imagine then their surprise when, upon flashing a torch, they saw a man there at the edge of the water, just in the act of untying a small sack. The man dropped the sack and bolted instantly upon seeing their light, and if he had not done so the boys would undoubtedly have bolted themselves, for they took him to be the watchman of the reservoir. Hearing him, however, scrambling over the fence, they realised that he was only a trespasser like themselves, and, of course, ran up to see what the sack contained."

Larose listened to the story of the attempt to poison the reservoir and how the man had fled. "But," he asked, "didn't the man see that his interrupters were only boys?"

"No," replied Lord Ransome. "It was pitch dark and all the man knew was that a light was being flashed upon him." He went on. "Well, the boys could make nothing of the white powder in the sack, and leaving it where it was they climbed back"—he smiled here—"to jump almost into the arms of a policeman who happened to be passing at the moment. Then, frightened as to what might be the consequences of their trespassing, they told the policeman exactly what they had seen. The latter was an alert and intelligent officer, and, taking the boys with him he aroused the watchman, and their story being investigated, it was speedily realised what an awful calamity had been so narrowly averted."

"Nothing more heard of the man, of course?" asked Larose.

"Nothing," replied his lordship, "he had just disappeared, and, as in all the other cases, not the faintest clue as to his identity had been left behind." He raised his hand solemnly. "Now comes a most extraordinary disclosure, and my story harks back to a certain Sunday morning, June 29th to be exact at the Gibbett Inn, a little hostelry on the Ashbourne Forest Road, midway between Hartfield and Maresfield, in Sussex."

He leant back in his chair and now from the expression upon his face it seemed that for the moment the anxieties of the statesman were forgotten in the pleasure of the raconteur who had a good story to tell.

He went on. "Well, it appears that this Gibbett Inn caters for quite a number of lunching parties on Sundays, and on that particular morning, just prior to the time when the customers were due to arrive, the eldest child of the inn-keeper, a young girl, was impertinent to her mother, and in consequence her father was summoned to administer chastisement. The girl, however, to escape the promised punishment, hid herself away, and chose for her hiding place an old fashioned ottoman in the large dining-room, where all the meals of the visitors are served."

He paused for a moment to enjoy the frowning and puzzled expression upon the face of Larose. For the life of him the latter could not surmise what he was going to be told next. Lord Ransome continued—

"The girl says she must have at once then fallen asleep. Next her story runs that she woke up and overheard parts of the conversation of four men, and this conversation, she avers, was all about certain people who were going to be punished. They were to be shot, or violence of some other kind was to be done to them." He nodded. "Mind you, she explains she couldn't hear everything that was said, and only scraps of the conversation reached her. Also, she couldn't see who was speaking, either, and——"

"How then does she know there were four men?" asked Larose sharply.

"Because of the voices," replied Lord Ransome, "and also, because through a crack in the side of the ottoman, she had a view of the greater part of the room and could only see four pairs of legs. The men, too, were close near her, but the sound of their voices was muffled, because, of course, the lid of the ottoman was shut down."

"How did she breathe?" asked Larose, as if determined to verify the story as it went along.

"There was no side to the ottoman, where it touched the wall," replied Lord Ransome. He nodded. "You can rest assured the girl's tale has been tested in every way. Well, as she heard the men talking, she distinctly caught the names of two persons they were speaking about, Lord Burkington's and Anthony Clutterbuck's, also she heard them mention various public buildings, including St. Paul's' Cathedral and the British Museum, and she says one of the men had a low laugh, like that of a madman on the talkies."

"And when did you learn all this?" asked Larose.

"Only last week," replied Lord Ransome, "in a communication from the police constable at Maresfield, which communication, indeed, he could have given us nearly two months ago." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, it is easy to blame the man now, but I really don't see that there was any neglect of duty, for he heard the girl's story weeks after the event had happened, and then only in such a casual sort of way that he attached no importance to it. You see, she ran away from her home that Sunday afternoon without saying anything, and it was ten days before her parents discovered she was staying with an old school friend at Eastbourne. Then, when she was brought back, she sulked for several days, and in consequence, it was quite three weeks after she had heard the conversation before she told her father about it, and later, he came to mention it casually across the bar-counter to the village policeman.

"And what did the policeman do then?" asked Larose.

"Nothing," replied Lord Ransome. "The girl was out upon her bicycle at the time he came into the bar, and he didn't think it worth while to wait until she came in and question her. In fact, he says frankly, he didn't believe the story, and thought it all an invention upon her part, but"—his lordship nodded impressively—"he happened to remember the two names and when first Lord Burkington was murdered, and later this man, Clutterbuck, the story came back to him in a flash, and he went post-haste up to the inn to interview the girl and make inquiries."

"And of course," commented Larose quickly, "after all that lapse of time, no description was forthcoming of any of the four men?"

"None whatever," replied Lord Ransome, "for the officers who were of course, immediately sent down to The Gibbett Inn, reported that the waitresses were women of no memory or intelligence, although the little girl was as sharp as a needle." He shrugged his shoulders. "But she could add nothing to what she had already told her father and the police constable. She had heard the voices and seen the four pairs of legs—and that was all."

"Hum!" remarked Larose thoughtfully. "A funny place to choose for hatching a conspiracy, the public dining-room of a way-side inn!" He nodded. "Still, if the girl's story can be depended upon——"

"And it can be depended upon," broke in Lord Ransome emphatically. He threw out his hands. "How else could she have picked up the two names—weeks before anything happened to their owners."

A long silence followed, and then Larose nodded grimly, "All right sir," he said. "I'll take it on." His eyes gleamed. "But I want a free hand, and to be allowed to go about it in my own way!"

Lord Ransome looked very pleased, and nodded emphatically. "Certainly," he replied, "and whatsoever eventuates we shall be very much beholden to you." He shook his head. "Of course, I realise that the question of remuneration will not enter into the matter at all, and your sole reward will be that of the hunter in the chase." He rose up from his chair. "But, really, it's a pleasure to do business with a gentleman who makes up his mind so quickly. Well, you'll report to Scotland Yard——"

"On Thursday," said Larose. "You must give me until then."

"Good!" said Lord Ransome, "and now we'll go back to that winter garden." He moved to the door, and then paused, with his hand upon the handle. "But, think," he went on impressively, "of the service you will be rendering to the country if you uncover this gang of madmen, for started now upon their course of revenge we never know from hour to hour what new outrage is not going to be reported." He shook his head. "But I'm afraid the Yard won't have much information to give you, for there were no clues that they could find to pick up, and no trails that they could see to follow. The murders were all committed with dreadful suddenness, and there were no eye-witnesses about to relate what happened. Just the whine of the bullet, the stab with the knife, or the crash with the bludgeon, and the miscreants disappeared as mysteriously and silently as they had come." He bowed smilingly, "Surely an ideal task for the incomparable Gilbert Larose!"

Some three minutes later Lord Ransome returned to where his daughter and Mrs. Larose were sitting in the winter garden. "But where is my husband?" asked the latter at once. "What have you done with him?"

"Oh! he's just stopped to speak to a gentleman in the lounge," replied Lord Ransome, "and from the warmth of their greeting they must be old friends."

And certainly the greeting between Larose and Raphael Croupin had been a warm one, for notwithstanding the very differing natures of their former activities there was a mutual liking between them. If Croupin were a rogue, he was always a humorous one, and, apart from his rogueries, a very likeable fellow.

"And what are you doing over here, Monsieur Croupin?" asked Larose, his face becoming serious, and with just a trace of suspicion in his tones.

"Nothing," replied Croupin with a tremendous sigh, "and I am very bored." He shot a quick glance at Larose, and added slyly, "I'm quite rich now, Monsieur. I have come into money."

"Whose?" asked Larose drily.

Croupin opened his eyes widely as if he were very surprised. "Oh! it is my own," he replied instantly. "All my very own." He looked rather hurt. "No, no, Meester Larose, there is none of that now, for I am of a character quite reformed." He spoke with great earnestness. "Why! I have even given compensation when people have proved that they are poor, because—" he coughed diffidently, "of the loss of possessions I am credited with as having illegally acquired." He drew himself up proudly. "Yes, I am rich now, for I have a large estate, the gift of a dear friend who died."

"And what are you going to do, then?" asked Larose.

"I don't know," was the sad reply. He shook his head. "Life has no spice in it now, there is no adventure, no danger, and——" he shrugged his shoulders, "but it is the same with you, is it not? You are certain each to-day that nothing is going to happen each to-morrow."

"Oh! I don't know whether I am," replied Larose quickly. "I'm not so sure then." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him and he asked sharply, "Where are you staying, here in Brighton?"

"No," replied Croupin, "in London, at the Savoy. I have a suite of rooms there."

"A suite of rooms at the Savoy!" exclaimed Larose.

"Yes, Monsieur," replied Croupin modestly. "I told you I was very rich."

"Good!" said Larose. "Then I'll take lunch with you there at 1 o'clock on Thursday,"—he lowered his voice to a whisper—"and you may be able to be of service to me. Adventure, perhaps, Monsieur, for I am back in harness again." He nodded solemnly. "A bullet in your head, or a dagger in your heart—if only we can pick up a certain trail."

Croupin beamed with delight. "Bien!" he exclaimed, "but it will be a pleasure whatever happens, Meester Larose, if I am working with you." He snapped his fingers together. "I am weary of no one thirsting for my blood."


CHAPTER III.—LAROSE UPON THE TRAIL.

"Of course," said the Chief Commissioner of Police when the following Thursday morning Larose was discussing things with him in Scotland Yard, "we are not dealing with ordinary criminals here, and, from the very first, we suspected the motives behind these killings to be ones of revenge. Then, as they went on, long before we heard the story of Cynthia Cramm, we were certain of it. All the parties concerned, except that Samuel Wiggins of Leigh-on-Sea were, or had been public men, and in positions to excite enmity in unbalanced minds, particularly so Sir John Lorraine, as an ex-judge of the Criminal Courts. Apart from that, too, where opportunity had occurred, there had been no robbery from the person after any of the murders had been done."

"The series of crimes may have began with acts of private vengeance," commented Larose, "but now its manifestations seem to be merging into a general expression of hatred against the community." He spoke very thoughtfully. "That means, surely, that the assassins at one time or other have suffered public humiliation, that they have been socially ostracised, or maybe, even undergone terms of imprisonment with the entire approval of every one."

"Exactly," agreed the commissioner, "we are dealing therefore with the most dangerous type of criminal—fanatics who will strike here, there, and everywhere, and who are hampered very little by the risks they are running."

"And assuming," went on Larose, "that the men they have killed were instrumental in bringing them to justice, or were in some way connected with the punishments they received, then it is probable those punishments were inflicted some time ago, for we notice they have been taking their revenge upon people getting up in years, all over sixty in fact."

"We considered that point," said the commissioner, "for three of the victims have retired from their professions, upwards of five years ago." He nodded. "Yes, that past is being raked up here."

"Then it all amounts to this," said Larose. "We have to uncover four men," he paused for a moment "—of the better nourished class, because they have a preference for the best quality of port wine and a choice in liqueurs—in command of ample means, because they are able to travel about the country to accomplish their ends—and of outward appearance of respectability, because the girl says their footwear was of an expensive kind, and their trousers were well creased." He laughed softly. "Not much to go upon, is it?"

"But you have seen in the reports that have been furnished you," replied the Commissioner a little testily, "that in not one single instance have we been able to light upon the ghost of any clue." He shrugged his shoulders. "Why these poor men have been killed we are equally in the dark, although the life-history of each one of them has been minutely gone into, to ascertain, of course, what probable enemy he may have had. In the case of Sir John Lorraine, for instance, all the prisoners he has sentenced and whose terms of imprisonment have expired recently have been accounted for, but with no profit to us in any way."

"But the elderly clergyman," asked Larose, looking very puzzled, "how possibly could he have offended to the extent of any one wanting to take his life?"

"Or the two medical men either, for the matter of that," said the Commissioner, shaking his head. "Lord Burkington was a very honoured member of his profession, and Dr. Bellew, a benevolent old gentleman, who in his day had been a most reputable leading women's physician."

"And there were no eye-witnesses," went on Larose musingly, "of the actual committing of any of these murders?"

The Commissioner shook his head. "No, no one has been near any of these people when they have died," he replied impressively. "No one either, has seen any suspicious strangers about, either before or after the crimes; no one has heard a cry, or the report of the rifle, even, when a rifle has been used. Just the dead bodies of five of them have been found, as silent and uncommunicative as if there were no tale that could be told." He smiled pathetically. "It is most heart-breaking, for the public will soon be clamouring for our blood, and I almost jump out of my shoes every time the telephone rings, thinking that another killing is coming through. Thank heaven, Parliament is not sitting now, or there would be a lot of questions asked."

A long silence followed, and then Larose got up from his chair. "Well, I think I'll be going now," he said, "to have my little talk with that girl at the Gibbett Inn, for it seems that there is the only hope of picking up any trail."

"And I wish you luck," said the Commissioner heartily, "although our best men have been to the inn and pumped everybody dry. But I'll have to give you a note of introduction to the landlord," he added, "for they have all been sworn to silence. Luckily Cramm himself is a taciturn man by nature, and so far nothing has leaked out to the public of the girl's story." He spoke sharply. "Now, which of our men would you like to take with you?"

"None of them," replied Larose promptly, "and I'll get you, please, to make out the introduction for a plain Mr. Smith, for I don't want it to become known that I'm on the job." He smiled. "I'm a married man now, and as these four gentlemen appear to be so very enterprising, it's quite possible if they learn that I'm about they may be paying a visit to Carmel Abbey and taking a pot shot at some one there."

Larose found Croupin eagerly awaiting him in the lounge of the Savoy, and over a good lunch explained to him upon what mission he was going, and suggested that the Frenchman should drive them both in his new car and give what help he could.

Croupin was delighted, and indeed he could not have appeared more happy if another dear friend of his had died and bequeathed him another large inheritance.

"And it is from this young girl," he exclaimed, excitedly, "that you expect to learn everything." His voice thrilled. "Perhaps she is beautiful, and from Beauty's lips will then fall the words that summon these monsters to the scaffold."

"But you mustn't speak to her," said Larose, with a smile. "You must wait outside, or talk to her parents about the weather."'

For the moment Croupin looked very disappointed, but then his face brightened. "Ah! well," he exclaimed cheerfully, "then I will talk to her mother. Perhaps she will be beautiful also, and I have always eyes for your rosebud country beauty"—he shrugged his shoulders—"if it is of course, not too full blown."

Larose eyed the exquisitely dressed Frenchman up and down. "And you'll please change those clothes of yours," he said sternly, "or else cover them over with a dust-coat, and you're to wear a proper chauffeur's cap. Also, please take off that emerald ring. You are not coming out with me, as a rich milord of France." He grinned. "You are going to be my chauffeur, and I shall call you Sam."

Croupin made a grimace, but replied meekly enough. "All right, Meester Larose, I will take any orders from you, because you have promised me some danger and some fun."

He coughed slightly. "One thing however, I should like to mention. Although I shall of course always be Raphael Croupin to you, still I might inform you that upon coming into my inheritance I adopted my mother's maiden name, and am now known is Raphael de Croisy-Hautville." He laughed softly. "By that means, perhaps, I thought the reputation of one Raphael Croupin, might the sooner be forgotten."

"Good gracious, Monsieur!" exclaimed Larose in some surprise. "An aristocrat, are you?"

"My mother's father," assented Croupin modestly, "was the Count Robert de Croisy-Hautville and a member of the old nobility."

Towards four o'clock in the afternoon the two then drove up to the Gibbett Inn, and Larose, alighting quickly, made his way into the bar. It was unoccupied except for a surly looking man who was seated behind the counter, reading a newspaper. The man rose leisurely when Larose appeared.

"Mr. Cramm, I believe," said Larose, and upon the man nodding a rather suspicious acquiescence, he presented the letter of introduction.

"Ah! I thought so," exclaimed the landlord frowningly after a glance down at the letter. "Another of them, are you?" He regarded Larose with not very friendly eyes. "Well, we're sick of it," he went on, "and if it were not for the drinks your people buy when they come down, I'd not answer another question. Here, walk this way."

He led Larose round into a passage at the back of the door and shouted "Cyn, where are you?" whereupon, a shrill voice came from upstairs. "Here, Dad, do you want me?"

The landlord jerked with his thumb. "Up those stairs," he said to Larose, "and you'll find her in the sitting-room. You won't want me," and then, as if detectives of all kinds had become of no interest to him, he returned unceremoniously into the bar.

Ascending the stairs, Larose found himself in the elf-like presence of Miss Cynthia Cramm, with the girl for the moment regarding him as her father had done, with no appearance of pleasure. But then taking in that her visitor was fashionably dressed, quite young, and decidedly good-looking, her expression changed quickly, and she gave him a quiet and reserved smile.

"Another detective, of course!" she exclaimed. "And what do you want?"

Larose took her measure at once, and made a most respectful bow. "So sorry to worry you, Miss Cramm," he said with great deference, "and I won't keep you long." He beamed at her. "No, I'm not a detective, but my friend, Lord Ransome, expressly asked me to come and see you."

A most pleasurable feeling thrilled through the angular little frame of Miss Cynthia Cramm as Larose mentioned the name of the Cabinet Minister. So Lord Ransome had asked him to see her, and he was quite different to the others, too! They had treated her as a child, and called her by her Christian name, but he was now addressing her as Miss Cramm.

She thawed all at once. "Come in here," she said sweetly, and she led the way into a small sitting-room containing a piano. "We'll sit on this sofa," she went on, as cool and collected as if she were addressing a person of her own age, "and then we can speak quite quietly, in case any of the maids should try to 'listen-in' at the door."

The smile of Larose was now a perfectly genuine one, and he had difficulty in not letting it pass into a grin. The girl was as self-possessed as if she were three or four and twenty, instead of sixteen, which was the age he now knew her to be.

"Now ask me anything you like," she said graciously when the door was shut and they had seated themselves upon the sofa. "I am sure I should like to help Lord Ransome, if I can. I have read about him, of course. He is the Home Secretary."

Larose was delighted, for with all the airs she was giving herself, here he perceived was an intelligence that should prove most useful to him. He came to the point at once.

"Now, Miss Cramm," he said, "it seems as if everything is going to depend upon you, for apart from what you can tell us, we can learn nothing whatsoever about these men"—he spoke very slowly—"these monsters who are taking life after life and escaping without being caught."

"Well, I've helped all I can," protested the girl, "and I tell you I've not had a too pleasant time." She bridled with indignation. "First, I was treated as a liar, and after that they've shouted at me as if by their shouting they could make me remember things that I hadn't seen or heard."

"I know, I know," Larose said soothingly. "Detectives are very annoying men, but I'm going to be quite different. I don't want to go over the whole thing again, because I've got a copy here of everything you told them on a sheet of paper in my pocket," and he took out and unfolded some closely-written typescript.

He glanced down at the paper and went on, speaking very slowly. "You say you suddenly woke up and heard the horrible mad laugh of one of them. Then a lot of names were mentioned but you remember only two of them, Burkington, because you have a girl friend of that name, and Clutterbuck, because it has such a funny sound." He laughed. "And I quite agree with you. Clutterbuck does sound funny." He went on. "Then it at once came to you that whoever was in the room, they were not eating, because there were no familial sounds of the clicking of knives and forks. Then—what happened?"

"Then I knew I must have been asleep a long time," replied the girl, "for I saw that lunch was finished with and over. So I squirmed my body round until my eyes were opposite a crack in the ottoman and I saw four pairs of feet and the lower part of four legs. The crack in the ottoman is not wide and quite low down, but I could see right across the room and that all the chairs at the long table were unoccupied." She nodded reminiscently. "I tell you I was very frightened, for Dad is quick-tempered and I knew he would thrash me hard for having been away so long."

"But how did you know the meal was over?" asked Larose. "It mightn't have yet begun."

The girl looked scornful. "If you had ever helped clear up," she replied, "after a lot of piggish men and women had been filling their insides, you'd know right enough from the state of the floor whether the meal was over or not yet begun." She tilted up her chin contemptuously. "Serviettes thrown under the table, crumbs and crusts of bread all scattered about, and even lumps of half-chewed meat, if they've come upon anything tough." She smiled. "Besides, I could smell the Stilton cheese and the port wine those men were drinking."

Larose was highly amused, for this chit of a girl was talking, as if for all the world her father were giving the meals away.

"But about the shoes these men were wearing," he said, "that's what I want to learn." He smiled challengingly. "Now do you know anything about shoes?"

Again, the girl looked scornful. "If you'd cleaned as many pairs as I have," she replied, "you'd be able to boast of something." She looked injured. "Why, before we got on and mum's cooking brought such a lot of people to the place—before we could afford to keep any maids—I, if you please, cleaned all the boots and shoes of everyone who was staying here. What were their shoes like?" She rattled off quickly. "A six, two nines, and a 10. All of good quality and one of the nines had a very broad welt. The broad welt belonged to the man who talked most, and who afterwards paid the bill for them all, the ten was the man with a horrible laugh, the six spoke very quietly, and the other nine was gruff and rather rude." She smiled at the look of surprise upon Larose's face. "They all spoke as if they were educated men besides being well dressed."

Larose was not only surprised but delighted also. Here, he was already learning something that had not been put down in the police reports—the shoes with the broad welt. A small thing, certainly, but in the tracking down of crime the smallest things at times become important and often their cumulative value is priceless.

"But tell me," he asked quickly, "did you see the soles of any of these shoes?"

"Of two of them," she replied, "and you could tell they had been driving their cars, for, when they leant back in their chairs and rested their feet upon their heels, I saw the polished spot where they press down the accelerator. Those shoes belonged to the ten and one of the nines, not the nine with the broad welt."

"And his shoes," asked Larose quickly, "the broad-welted shoes of the man who you say talked the most. Did they look like shoes you would go motoring in?"

"Our customers are practically all motorists," she replied grandly. "We don't cater for hikers. Our prices are much too high. We charge 3/6 for lunch."

"Never mind that," said Larose, "for he may have been an exception. Think"—he smiled—"would you be likely to be driving a car in those shoes, for if they had broad welts they would be likely, also, to have thick soles and be walking shoes."

For the first time Miss Cynthia did not seem to be quite so ready with her reply, and she sat frowning and biting her underlip very thoughtfully.

"No-o," she said slowly, after a long pause, "I don't think I should, for they would be rather heavy." Then she added suddenly and in a very different tone. "No, he might not perhaps have come in a car, for I remember now there was mud upon his shoes." She nodded brightly. "Yes, his were the only dirty pair. All the others looked spick and span as if they had just been put on."

"Excellent!" exclaimed Larose, "then he may have walked here! But how do you know," he went on quickly, "if you could only see the legs of these men, that it was the one with these heavy shoes who did most of the talking?"

She smiled as if she were amused. "After a few minutes," she replied, "I could tell instantly which of the four was speaking by the movements of his feet or the shifting about of the legs of his chair. They were all talking earnestly, and there was some movement in their bodies when they spoke. The man with the thick shoes had a lovely voice, like an educated clergyman or some one speaking over the air, and when he was talking the front legs of his chair kept tilting up and down, and you could tell his body was moving backwards and forwards, or from side to side. You understand," she explained, "I could see much better than I could hear, for their voices were always muffled to me except when I was just raising the lid of the ottoman, and I couldn't keep that up for long at a time. It made my arm ache so."

"You are very intelligent, Miss Cramm," said Larose warmly, "and it is a pleasure to talk to you." He laughed. "You would make a good detective."

The girl laughed too. "But if you only knew the time I've had during the last few days," she said, "ever since the detectives began coming up, you would be sorry for me." She looked very sorry for herself. "I lie awake at night for hours and hours, trying to recall something else they said." She sighed. "But I think I've told everything I can remember."

Larose was looking down at a paper in his hand. "Well, there are one of two questions," he said, "that I want to ask you about. You told the detectives that one of the men mentioned they had tools all ready to hand."

"Yes," nodded the girl, "the man with the nice voice said that."

"And then he went on to say," said Larose still looking at the paper, "that some one they knew would cut any one's throat with his razor if only they paid him well enough for it."

"Yes," replied the girl, "he said he was sure the man would be willing to do it, or at any rate, he looked as if he would be willing to do it. He then said that he had seen this same man buying filthy black cigarettes one night in a shop in Soho, and he wouldn't wonder if he hadn't fought against us in the war."

Larose looked up sharply. "But you didn't mention about those cigarettes to the detectives," he said with a frown. "It's not down here on this paper."

"No," she replied calmly. "I didn't think of it until just now, when those nicotine stains on your fingers reminded me of it."

Larose repressed a smile. "Black cigarettes, he said he saw him buy?" he asked.

"Filthy black ones," was the reply. "Those were his exact words."

"And then one or them said," went on Larose turning back to his paper, "that the smell of some place they used to go into made him feel sick every time for a few minutes until he got used to it."

"Yes, the man with the gruff voice said that," replied the girl, "the man with the other shoes of size nine."

"And did he say that immediately after the remark had been made about the man cutting throats with his razor," asked Larose, "as if there were some connection between the razor man and the smell?"

"Almost immediately it must have been," said the girl, "because I remember I was pushing up the top of the ottoman then, and had to let it down very soon after to give myself a rest."

"And did any one else say anything about this smell?" was the next question.

The girl hesitated. "I think it was the man with the horrible laugh," she replied slowly, "who said something like, 'Oh! that's nothing to them, for they live on smells where they come from.'" She nodded emphatically. "Yes, and he said, too, it was a better smell than that of men and women who never washed or changed their clothes."

"And then they talked about Hankow!" said Larose.

"They only said that someone they knew about came from there. I just caught the name of the place."

Larose looked down again upon the paper and remarked meditatively: "And you saw a diamond ring upon the finger of the man who paid the bill when he bent down to arrange one of his socks, and the hand was big and plump and white." He thought for a moment. "And should you know that man's voice again?" he asked.

"If I live to be a hundred," exclaimed Cynthia fervently, "for it was a beautiful voice, and kept going up and down."

"Now, one last question," said Larose, "and think over it before you reply, because it is very important." He eyed her solemnly. "Now, did it strike you, from the way they spoke to one another, that they were old friends—or that they were comparative strangers to one another?"

"I can't say," replied the girl slowly. She nodded. "All I can tell you is that they talked about that throat cutting man and other people they had been with as if they knew all about them."

"That's not what I mean," said Larose quickly. "I want to find out if it seemed to you that that they had had chats together before. If they had had meals and drinks together and knew each other's little ways."

The girl thought for a long time. "Perhaps not," she replied, after a while, "for I remember when the man with the nice voice asked the one with the small shoes once if he was sure he wouldn't have one of his cigarettes, the answer was, 'No, thank you. I tell you I never smoke.'"

"That's it!" nodded Larose. "That's what I wanted to know." He rose to his feet. "Well, thank you very much, Miss Cramm. I'm sure you've been most helpful. Now, a last favour. Could I see this head waitress of yours, although I've been told she can recollect nothing, and the other two girls are just as useless?"

"Of course you can," replied Cynthia. "I'll go and fetch her at once." She rose up from the sofa and walked over towards the door, but then, in passing the window, she stopped suddenly and ejaculated, "My!"

Larose followed the direction of her eyes and saw that it was Croupin, who had now attracted her attention. The Frenchman was standing by the car below, and with a very disconsolate look upon his face, smoking a cigarette.

"But isn't he handsome," went on Cynthia ecstatically. "He looks like a film star." She turned sharply to Larose. "Is he a friend of yours? Did he come with you?"

"He's my chauffeur," smiled Larose, "and when you've sent that waitress to me, you can go and talk to him."

"Sure, I will," replied Cynthia archly. "I like talking to good-looking men."

Larose questioned the waitress, but could get nothing out of her. She was wooden and unintelligent and could add nothing to that she had already told the detective, indeed she declared she would not have recollected the incident of the four men at all, if it had not been that it had happened upon the afternoon when the landlord's daughter could not be found anywhere, and was not at hand to help them tidy up the room.

A few minutes later, Larose and Croupin drove off from the inn, the former in good spirits, but the latter, seemingly rather depressed.

"Well, Croupin my boy," asked Larose presently, as they were speeding along towards the south coast, "did you admire the beauties you saw."

"I saw no beauties," replied Croupin in disconsolate tones. "Only a very red-faced woman who waddled like a duck, and a child who came and asked me silly questions."

"She was not a child!" exclaimed Larose, as if very surprised. "She is getting on for seventeen and is the daughter I came to see!"

"Bon nuit!" exclaimed Croupin disgustedly, "and I told her to go back to her dolls." Then he asked abruptly, "And did you get anything out of her?"

"Yes," nodded Larose emphatically, "most certainly I did. I have several things to talk over with you to-night after I've seen the judge's widow. We're off to Eastbourne now to catch her before dinner time."

Lady Lorraine was a frail old lady, well over seventy, and she received Larose with a gentle old-world courtesy. She did not mind discussing her husband's dreadful end and was anxious to give all the help she could. Larose had been up the lane and with the aid of a photograph he had brought with him, had picked out the exact spot where the judge had been killed. Now he pressed her hard as to any trivial happenings in the weeks just prior to when her husband died.

"We have got as far as this," he said. "We are sure that if this terrible happening were not the unpremeditated act of a madman, then it was carefully prepared for and someone waited to seize the opportunity when your husband would be alone. You have told us the lane is little used, but that he passed along it every day, as a matter of routine, for his short morning walk. You almost invariably accompanied him, but did not do so the morning upon which he died, because you were in bed with a bad cold."

The old lady nodded. "Yes, that is so," she replied sadly, "and it was the first morning for a long time that I had not gone with him."

"Then you told the inspector," went on Larose, "that you had never noticed any suspicious strangers hanging about and had no recollection of meeting the same party twice, but you also said that the day before everything happened, you both came upon a man at the bottom of the lane, standing on the tree-trunk there, looking over your garden wall."

"Yes," said Lady Lorraine, "he said he had been admiring our roses."

"And you only happened to speak to him," continued Larose, "because your little fox-terrier ran up and began barking at him and Sir John then called the dog back and apologised."

"That is so," said the old lady, "and the gentleman was most polite. My husband asked him if he would like to come in and go through the garden, but he excused himself that he had only just time to get back to his hotel for lunch."

"And you can't describe him!" said Larose.

"No, I am very short-sighted without my glasses," she replied, "which I never wear when out-doors, and except that I think he was of medium height and rather stout, I can tell you nothing about him." She shook her head most emphatically. "But he would never have harmed my poor husband. He was a gentleman, whatever he was."

"And, of course, you realised that from the way he spoke," said Larose quietly, "from his voice. Now, tell me what was his voice like?"

"Very cultured and pleasant," replied Lady Lorraine, "and my dear husband remarked upon it, too, later on."

"Oh! and what did he say?" asked Larose quickly.

"That it was the voice of an orator," was the answer, "and recalled to him the days when the great King's Counsels used to plead before him in the Courts." She smiled wistfully. "You see, Mr. Smith, living the quiet and uneventful lives that we did, all by ourselves, most trifling things interested us and that is why I happen to remember this gentleman speaking to us."

"And perhaps," said Larose very gently and endeavouring to keep her thoughts in the same channel, "this chance encounter made Sir John reminiscent, and he spoke about some of the cases that had been tried before him."

Lady Lorraine smiled. "You are quite a wizard," she said. "Yes, he did, and we sat over lunch for quite a long time that day." Tears welled up into her eyes. "I remember that meal so well, because it was the last one we had together. I went to bed that afternoon and was there"—her voice choked—"when his body was brought home."

Larose waited until she had entirely recovered from her emotion and then asked carelessly—

"And can you recall any of the trials, in particular, that he mentioned?"

She thought for a moment. "One," she replied, "when some doctor was being tried for murder and Mortimer Fairfax was prosecuting. He said it was a battle royal between Mr. Fairfax and the counsel for the defence, Sir Arnold Trevane, and they both were so wonderful that he himself could never be quite certain as to whether the doctor were guilty or not." She nodded. "However, he was hanged."

That was all Larose could learn from her, and when he left the house a few minutes later, he carried away with him the remembrance of a very dear old lady, who was brave enough to be living out the remainder of her life within a few yards of the spot where her husband had met with such a dreadful end.

They put up at the Queen's Hotel in Eastbourne, and when after dinner they retired to their common bedroom, Larose at once began to talk business.

"Now, Monsieur," he said with a smile, "you may be a great rogue but at the same time you are a very wise one, and in that nicely shaped head of yours there is plenty of imagination, and good reasoning power, or you would not have been wanted so much by the authorities of your very charming country."

"I am a rogue no longer, Meester Larose," said Croupin with great dignity, "for I am now your friend, and I know you would not be consorting with an evil-doer."

"I'm not so certain of that," replied Larose, with a grin, "for it seems to me I've been consorting with evil-doers all my life." He took some papers out of his pocket. "Never mind, here goes. I'm going to ask you for your suggestions and advice."

Then in minute detail he proceeded to go through the conversations he had had with Cynthia Cramm, and the widowed Lady Lorraine. "Now, Monsieur Croupin, what do you make of it?" he asked, when he had finished. "Have I learnt anything to-day that will be of use to us or not?" He looked doubtful. "You see, I can imagine so many things that hang upon such slender threads that I am afraid to let my imagination go."

"But some things are so clear, Meester Larose," said Croupin earnestly, "that there is no need for imagination. One thing—that man who paid for the meal and the wine was, of course, the host, therefore it was he who had asked those others to meet him there."

"It looks as if the host of that dinner lives close to the inn," commented Larose, "and that he walked, for there was mud on both his shoes, not a chance splash, but mud on the broad welt between the soles and the uppers." He nodded. "Yes; this man, the host, the leader of the four, should live within a few miles of the inn, and he chose it as a place of rendezvous, because it suited his convenience."

"But if he lives near," argued Croupin, "why didn't he ask those men to come to his own house? They must have thought it strange!"

"I take it they didn't know where he lived," replied Larose quickly, "indeed, probably they were none of them aware where one another lived. Also, I am of opinion that the man who called them together was the only one there who knew there was going to be a party." He scoffed. "If they had all known it, why should they have gone through the farce of sitting apart from one another at the meal, knowing that the waitresses were going to see them all hobnobbing together afterwards?" He added convincingly. "This was their first meeting, too."

"Oh!" exclaimed Croupin, "how do you make that out?"

"They met to plot murder and outrage, we know," replied Larose. "None of the series we are now called upon to deal with had commenced up to then, but they commenced immediately afterwards. Also, over that port wine and liqueurs, they were not too well acquainted with one another." He shook his finger at Croupin. "Remember, the man who gave the party asked one of them if he was sure he would not have one of his cigarettes, and the reply was 'I tell you I don't smoke.'" He nodded. "That 'I tell you' means the stout man had asked him once before, and therefore had not fully taken in his tastes and habits."

"Bien, Monsieur," said Croupin with a smile, "they are little things, but the little things count"—he drew himself up proudly—"with men who are tracking murderers down."

"Well, now," went on Larose, "he spoke about 'tools ready to hand,' and then went on immediately to talk about some man who looked as if he would cut any one's throat with his razor." He looked sharply at Croupin. "Now, when you talk about a man and his razor, obviously, who are they thinking of?"

"A barber," replied Croupin, "and as he went on to say he had met the fellow one night in Soho buying black cigarettes, the barber is probably not an Englishman. Also as he said that perhaps the man had fought against England in the war, then this barber should be a Swiss and not either a Frenchman or a German, for in either of those cases the stout man would have been certain whom the barber had been fighting against, and would not have used the word 'perhaps.'" He laughed gaily. "Perhaps I am stealing your thunder, Meester Larose, but I am of opinion we must look for a Swiss barber here."

"Excellent!" laughed back Larose, "we are now giving our imagination full play, but for all that we may be quite right."

"And there is, of course, a Chinaman mixed up in it as well," went on Croupin. "The gentleman from Hankow."

"Yes," agreed Larose, "and now we come to the smell." He spoke very thoughtfully. "What did it mean, when immediately after talking about the barber the gruff man said that the smell of somewhere they used to go into always made him feel sick for a few minutes, until he had got accustomed to it?"

"They had been accustomed to meet in some place where there were chemicals," replied Croupin promptly, "or tallow, or hides"—his eyes sparkled—"in some warehouse perhaps, down by the docks in the East End."

"Good!" exclaimed Larose, "and that's where most of the Chinamen are. Didn't the man with the unpleasant voice say 'they live on smells where they come from.'" He smiled. "Yes, our imaginations are not failing us."

A short silence followed and then he went on. "And now we come to something that may eventually prove to be the strongest link in the chain we are going to forge about these men." He spoke impressively. "I have been to two houses to-day, and in both of them mention has been made of a voice, and taking all the circumstances together there is no doubt in my mind that I have been hearing about one and the same voice, the voice of the stout man in the Gibbett Inn and the voice of the stroller in the lane, who one morning spoke so charmingly to Sir John Lorraine, and the next day bludgeoned him to death almost at the same spot."

He leant back in his chair. "You see, Monsieur," he went on, "that voice made a great impression upon little Cynthia Cramm, and in a lesser degree interested Lady Lorraine. The girl described it as the voice of a fine preacher, or some one chosen to broadcast over the air, and the judge's widow referred to it as stamping its possessor as a gentleman. Also, it had a singular effect upon Sir John himself, for it made him reminiscent and stirred in him memories of great legal battles of long ago." He nodded very solemnly. "Now, my opinion is that the old judge subconsciously recognised the voice, that he had heard it before, and that is why it carried him back in memory to the environment where he had once encountered it."

"It may be," admitted Croupin slowly, "for memory can play us strange tricks. What we remember and why we remember depends upon such trifles some times." He sighed, "A violet, for instance, always recalls to me a girl in Picardy I once plighted my troth to. I can recall her face vividly, whenever I smell one, and yet, for the life of me, I can never remember her name. She was exquisite and——"

"You see," broke in Larose, cutting him short, "the voice roused in two people the same parallel lines of thought: in Cynthia Cramm a melodious preacher in the pulpit, and in the judge, a great pleader arguing before him in the court. Therefore——"

"But how can the voice help you?" interrupted Croupin in his turn, annoyed perhaps that the recital of his romance in Picardy had been shut down. "You can't pick out a voice from among the fifty millions of others in England, and even if you could you can't use a voice as evidence in a court of law."

Larose began unloosening his tie. "Well, you see if I can't, my friend," he smiled. "I've got a good idea there." He took off his collar. "But it's shut-eye time for us both now, and you can start straight away to dream of that girl in Picardy you were speaking about. To-morrow we're off to Surbiton to guess why that old clergyman died," and he started taking off his clothes, humming to Croupin's amused annoyance, "Somewhere a voice is calling!"


CHAPTER IV.—GHOSTS OF THE DEAD.

Mrs. Fox-Drummond was a well-known society woman, and resided in Surbiton in a spacious mansion standing in its own grounds. A widow about 50 years of age and well-to-do, she entertained a good deal, and, with no children of her own, acted as fairy-godmother to a large number of nephews and nieces whose parents were not so liberally endowed with this world's goods as she was.

A strong character and of literary tastes, she had written several novels which, if they had not had a large circulation, had nevertheless been favourably received by the Press. She was also interested in art and possessed a number of paintings of considerable value, a very fine collection of old china, and a harpsichord of the beginning of the 18th century. She came of a very old family, and, immensely proud of her own aristocratic connections, had a profound reverence for the upper classes.

She had known Lady Helen Ardane before the latter's marriage to Gilbert Larose, and, as a matter of principle, had heartily disapproved of the match, so when upon that Saturday morning the ex-detective's card was brought in upon a silver salver by a very obsequious butler she elevated her eyebrows rather disdainfully, and when a few moments later Larose himself was ushered in her manner was distinctly cold and distant.

But the respectful and almost deferential attitude of her visitor speedily disarmed her, and noticing with approval that he looked in every way a gentleman and was, moreover, dressed in perfectly good taste, she became friendly, and was soon disposed to talk to him without reserve.

"So you've returned to Scotland Yard!" she said. "I thought you had naturally given all that work up for good."

"No, I haven't returned to the Yard," replied Larose, "but as all these dreadful crimes are so baffling to every one and now appear to be a sequence, I was asked by the Home Office to see if I could help in any way." He smiled apologetically. "I am so very sorry to bother you, but it is just possible coming fresh into the inquiry I may pick up something that the others missed."

"Well, what is it you want me to tell you?" she asked.

"I want you to just go over for me exactly what happened that afternoon," he replied, "immediately before it was discovered the poor archdeacon had met with such a terrible death. He was your cousin, I understand, and you were giving a little party to celebrate the 21st birthday of his daughter, Miss Angela Lendon. You had lunched together and then the young people had played tennis until about half-past five. Then all of you except the archdeacon had come indoors to have a cocktail. You left him seated in a garden chair over upon the other side of the lawn, but in full view of all the windows of the house. He was reading."

"Yes," she said, "and we could see him from the room where we were. He was leaning back with his feet upon another chair, and his legs were wrapped in a rug." She shuddered. "He might have been shot any moment after we left him, for except that the book had dropped from his hands and one arm was hanging down, his position when we found him was almost exactly as it had been before." She steadied her voice with an effort. "It was only his head that had moved, and that was leaning sideways as if he had fallen asleep."

She rose abruptly to her feet, and beckoned Larose to follow her to the window. "Look, that's where he was sitting," she went on, "just under that tree and that"—she pointed to a high backed and well-cushioned cane chair—"is the facsimile of the chair he was sitting in." She drew in a deep breath. "The other one has been burnt."

"And none of you has any recollection," asked Larose gently, "of hearing any noise like a rifle being fired?"

She shook her head. "None of us. We were laughing and talking, and with the wireless on there was small chance of hearing a little .22 being fired." She looked quickly at him. "You know of course, that it was a .22 rifle that was used?" She sighed. "I fired with one for many years, when a girl in Devonshire, and remember well what a little noise it makes. Just a snap, or like the crack of a whip." Her face looked furious. "The murderer couldn't have been a dozen yards away when he fired"—she pointed with her finger—"and there isn't a shadow of doubt he fired over that wall."

"And, of course, you all thought it was an accident at first!" said Larose.

"I didn't," she replied sharply. "I knew it was murder at once, because I saw the two bullet holes, the instant I looked at him." She nodded. "The murderer was taking no chances, and deliberately fired twice."

Larose was silent for a few moments to allow Mrs. Fox-Drummond to calm down, and then he asked quietly. "And none of you can form any idea as to why anybody should have wished to take your cousin's life?"

"If it were not for these other murders," she replied, "I should say at once it was because of his book, 'Facing Facts.' He was a very broad churchman and his views had made him a lot of enemies. He was always receiving letters demanding that he should unfrock himself and leave the Church." She scoffed contemptuously. "He threw them all into the fire."

They talked on for quite a long time, and then Larose, getting up to take his leave, she rose up, too, and moved towards the door with the evident intention of herself showing him out.

"Your wife is a very sweet woman, Mr. Larose," she said, smilingly and evidently relieved now to change the conversation. "I met her as Lady Ardane several times, and from that photograph in 'The Sphere' a little while back, she hasn't altered at all. Just as beautiful and stately as ever!" Her face clouded suddenly, and she bit her lip. "Ah! that reminds me. I'll show you a photograph that was taken of us all that afternoon, not half an hour before my poor cousin died. I had a photographer down from town, expressly, to make a good picture. Come with me and I'll show it you."

She led the way into a small room off the lounge hall, and pointed out a large photograph, about two feet by one, hanging upon the wall. It was a fine piece of work, and the faces and figures of every one of the score and more individuals stood out most clearly and distinctly.

"That is my cousin, of course," she said quietly, "and you can see what a fine, strong face he had." Her voice trembled. "He was quite a young man, although he was 63."

A deep hush came over them, for they were both thinking of the mystery and uncertainty of life. Here was a group of happy smiling people, dainty girls, stately matrons, and distinguished-looking men, all seemingly in the full participation of the good things of life, and yet—had they only known it—they were all standing in the very shadow of death, and within a few short moments one of their number was to come to a foul and bloody end.

But suddenly Larose drew in a sharp inspiration and with difficulty suppressed an exclamation of surprise. He said nothing, however, for a few moments, and then pointing to one of the figures in the group asked carelessly, "And who is that gentleman holding the racquet?"

"Another cousin of mine," replied Mrs. Fox-Drummond, "Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, the King's Counsel. He and Archdeacon Lendon were half-brothers."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, now unable to repress his surprise, "why, what a coincidence, for I was only talking about him yesterday, and he is a gentleman I very much want to see! Where does he live, please?"

"At Ingatestone," she replied, "the other side of London, in Essex."

Larose looked quickly at his watch. "Then do you think I should catch him at home this afternoon?" he asked. "It's very important. I suppose he's on the 'phone."

Mrs. Fox-Drummond shook her head. "No, he won't be at home this afternoon," she replied. She laughed, "He's coming here for some tennis after lunch."

Larose looked the picture of astonishment. "Well!" he exclaimed, "what another coincidence! It's almost unbelievable!" He spoke very regretfully. "Now, I wonder if I might call back here this afternoon, for just a few minutes, and have a little chat with him. Yes, the matter's really very urgent, or I wouldn't bother you. May I come back?"

Mrs. Fox-Drummond hesitated just a moment, "No, you mustn't come back, Mr. Larose," she said, inclining her head graciously. "You must stay to lunch with us. I shall be so pleased, and you can tell me about some of your adventures. There will be only Miss Lendon with me. She is my goddaughter."

"It is very kind of you, I'm sure," said Larose warmly, "but I have a friend with me, who brought me down in his car"—he rolled out the name in secret amusement—"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville."

"Then, of course, he'll stay, too," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond instantly. "I'll ring for the butler to ask him to come in."

"No, no," exclaimed Larose, pointing to the open French window, and anxious that at all costs no one should see Croupin in his chauffeur's cap. "I'll go and fetch him if I may. He's only just outside."

He found Croupin sitting in the car, and the Frenchman at once discarded his cap and dust-coat when he heard what was going to happen, and almost in a movement like that of a conjuror, produced and put on his big emerald ring.

"Now don't be too friendly," admonished Larose, "for she's inclined to be high-and-mighty, and a bit stand-offish with it as well."

But he was quite wrong there, for Mrs. Fox-Drummond received the Frenchman in a mostly friendly fashion, and at once held out her hand. "I've heard of your family, Monsieur," she said. "The de Choisy-Hautvilles come from Brittany, do they not?"

"Oh! yes," replied Croupin very delighted. "My estate is near Rennes."

Angela Lendon came in presently, and the moment he set eyes upon her Croupin's heart beat so violently that he was sure he would be unable to taste a single morsel of the lunch.

The girl was dainty and aristocratic-looking, with golden hair, nice complexion, and eyes of beautiful forget-me-not colour. She carried herself proudly, but if her expression were a little cold, it was redeemed by the hint of passion in the lips of her very pretty mouth. She was of medium height, with a graceful and well-proportioned figure.

The luncheon party certainly proved a great success, but it was undoubtedly Croupin who carried off all the honours. His manners were so charming, he was so deferential towards the ladies and yet with all he carried himself with such due pride, as became a descendant of the French nobility. His knowledge too, of the subjects that most interested his hostess and Miss Lendon were so profound that they could not help being thrilled.

He could name all the private owners of the most valuable paintings in France, all the great ladies there who possessed the most priceless jewels, and the precautions they took to prevent them being stolen, and all the castles and great chateaux where the historic tapestries were housed.

Then when they spoke of music his dark eyes flashed as he told them how he had played upon some of the great master-works of the old Cremona school, and how he had himself once possessed a genuine Antonio Stradivaris. Altogether, he was so interesting that it was easy to perceive from the heightened colour of the young girl what pleasure she was deriving from his conversation. Indeed after the meal was over she commandeered him openly to go with her and try his skill upon the old historic harpsichord.

"Now, Mr. Larose," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond, when they were together by themselves, "there are six or seven people coming for the tennis this afternoon, and some of them may be here any moment, now. So, I suggest, as you say you do not wish it to be broadcast that you are speaking privately to Mr. Fairfax, that you wait here for him and I'll send him into you directly he comes."

"That's very thoughtful of you," agreed Larose, "and I shall be most grateful." He thought for a moment. "But if you don't mind I should like to wait in the little room where the photograph was. I want to study it again."

And so it happened that about half an hour later a big burly man, with a large face of ruddy complexion, bustled into the room where Larose was, and eyed the ex-detective very keenly from under his shaggy brows.

"Good afternoon," he said gruffly as he came forward to shake hands, "I know all about you, of course, and heard you give evidence once in the Texworthy murder case,"—he frowned as if he were not too pleased—"but what the deuce you want with me now, I don't understand. To my thinking, they've found out all they will find out about the trouble here, and I'm quite sure I can't help you in any way."

"On the contrary," replied Larose, "I expect you to help me quite a lot." He lowered his voice impressively. "Do you know, Mr. Fairfax, in my opinion you are in very great danger, and indeed, are under sentence of death."

"Under sentence of death!" gasped the King's Counsel, as if he could not believe his ears. He looked furious. "What the devil do you mean?"

"When they killed the archdeacon on the lawn here," replied Larose solemnly, "they thought they were killing you. You are not unlike him in appearance, and see"—he pointed to the photograph—"the shapes of your two heads are exactly similar." He went on quickly. "The archdeacon was sitting in that high-backed chair, only his head was visible, and as he was fired upon from behind, whoever killed him only saw the back of it." He nodded. "Remember, you, in your calling, are far more likely to have excited hatred in the heart of someone than an elderly clergyman, however broad his views." He nodded again. "Yes, in my opinion, they thought they had got you that afternoon, and it came into my mind, the very moment I saw that photograph."

The ruddy face of the King's Counsel had paled under its tan. "Good God!" he exclaimed, "and last Sunday at my place in Ingatestone, my Pomeranian was growling all night, and in the morning we found footprints of someone in the bed of phlox, just under my bedroom window!"

"Do you go home then to Ingatestone every night?" asked Larose.

"No," replied Fairfax, with his breath still coming unevenly, "I stay in apartments in the Empire Residential Hotel during the week, and go home only at week-ends. I am a bachelor."

"Have you been at home every weekend then, since the archdeacon died?" asked Larose.

"No, last Sunday was the first night, for two months. I've been away on holiday in the Engadine since July." His colour began to come back, and he spoke angrily. "But, damn it all, man, whose enmity have I incurred that they should want to murder me?"

"That's what we've got to find out," replied Larose, "and with your help, I think we shall do it. See here, Mr. Fairfax, I have what is quite a simple problem to put to you, and to recall some one who may be your deadly enemy is not nearly so difficult as it may appear, for"—he spoke now very slowly—"the individual was the enemy also of Sir John Lorraine."

"Ah! I understand," exclaimed the K.C. with a scowl, "you mean some one I obtained a conviction against, and whom Sir John sentenced upon the verdict of guilty being brought in?"

"That's it," replied Larose. "Now you've often pleaded before him, haven't you?"

Mr. Fairfax nodded. "In the last twenty years, I must have led for the Crown a hundred times when he was presiding over the Court. I took silk more than five and twenty years ago." He shook his head frowningly. "But damnation, sir, how can we trail every man who's got his deserts between us?"

Then Larose, omitting all reference to the Gibbett Inn, told of his interview with Lady Lorraine the previous night. How, the day previous to her husband's murder, she and Sir John had met a pleasant-tongued stranger in the lane just outside the garden wall; how the judge had remarked later upon the strangers voice, and how it had stirred in him a whole train of memories of his days in the Criminal Courts.

"And he particularly brought up your name," concluded Larose, "so I insist the man's voice made him think of you, and subconsciously he was remembering some occasion—not the exact one he mentioned, because the man found guilty there was hanged—where you and he had been principals in some great drama staged in his court."

"That doesn't help us much," growled the K.C. "My life's been a very crowded one, and even if I go through every page of my case-book, I couldn't hope to pick out the man you want."

Then Larose played his trump card. "But think," he said sternly, "I want a man, probably not too old, who was well, perhaps even foppishly dressed; who was educated and, no doubt, plausible; who was certainly of an energetic nature, and prepared to take risks; who was an organiser; who was a leader of men; a man of imagination who painted upon a big canvas and did things in a big way;"—he spoke very solemnly—"and, above all, a man who was an orator and whose voice, may be, thrilled the Court every time he spoke."

The burly K.C. stood as if hypnotised, with his mouth wide open and his eyes fixed. In great distress of mind he was stirring the wells of memory, and he found their waters very dark.

"Think, think," insisted Larose. "An educated, well-spoken man, a man of great energy and an orator, with an organ voice."

The K.C. sprang suddenly into life. "Gad! gad! I know him," he almost shouted. "I can pick him up. It was Oscar Bascoigne and I can hear him now. He was in the dock for fraudulent company promoting, and he had ruined thousands of people. He conducted his own defence, and although his fraud was absolutely patent, yet he so swung the jury by his eloquence that it was touch and go to the last minute whether he got off or not. But they brought in 'guilty,' and Sir John sent him down for seven years. When the sentence was pronounced he raved that Sir John's summing-up was the most scandalous piece of special pleading that had ever been heard." He drew in a deep breath. "Yes, it's Oscar Bascoigne, you mean, for sure."

Larose wiped the perspiration from his forehead. "What was he like?" he asked hoarsely.

"Everything you say he was," replied Fairfax promptly. "A clever, plausible rogue. A silver-tongued scoundrel who was afraid of nothing." He laughed through his teeth. "Ay! he painted upon a broad canvas right enough. He'd been living like a nabob, and spending hundreds of thousands of the savings of the little rich and the thrifty poor."

They talked on for a long while, with Larose now taking him into his confidence as to all that he had learnt at the Gibbett Inn. Then the great King's Counsel shook Larose warmly by the hand.

"You are a real artist, sir," he said smilingly, "and if it turns out that you are right you will indeed have reaped your harvest from the desert sands. It's perfectly wonderful to me how you have deduced so much with so little to go upon."

"Well, don't you go for any more week-ends at Ingatestone," warned Larose—he hesitated—"at any rate, until I am free to go with you. Then——"

"Damn it all!" laughed the K.C. "I see what's in your mind. You want to use me as ground bait, don't you."

Larose laughed back. "Something like that, sir," he replied, "but I promise you they shan't get you if I'm there."

Dragging Croupin away, who came, however, with the greatest of reluctance, the car was soon turned towards London, for Larose was now of opinion that he had gathered quite sufficient information to make a good start, and had best continue his investigations on the morrow in the vicinity of the Gibbett Inn.

Croupin was strangely silent as they drove along, and not a word was spoken for several miles. Then Larose asked with a smile. "Had a good time, Monsieur? Did you enjoy yourself?"

The Frenchman sighed heavily. "Not too much, Meester Larose," he replied, "for there was a ghost behind me all the time."

"A ghost!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised. "But I should have thought you would have been supremely happy, for you took that girl's heart by storm, I could see," and as Croupin made no comment, he asked. "Wouldn't she talk to you when you went off together?"

Croupin's face brightened at once. "Oh! yes, and she didn't go out for any tennis," he replied, "until Mrs. Fox-Drummond came in with some of the others, and we had to go." He smiled sadly. "I had been playing on that harpsichord for her 'Love's Old Sweet Song' and other pieces like it"—he sighed again—"and she just sat and watched me."

"Well, why are you unhappy," asked Larose, "and what about the ghost?"

Croupin sighed for the third time. "It is my past," he replied. "I can never be a good man, Monsieur, for I have been once a thief."

"Oh! that's nothing," replied Larose with a grin. "Don't you come from the old nobility and didn't they bludgeon and thieve their way into all they got." He laughed banteringly. "You read history, my boy, and see how the old robber barons carried on—the jokers who made the greatness of both your country and this one." He dug Croupin in the ribs. "It's in your blood, Monsieur, and you couldn't help it until you'd worked it out." Then feeling quite sorry for the woe-begone expression upon the Frenchman's face he added, "it was only adventure you wanted. Why, I remember I used to steal once, myself."

"You, Meester Larose!" exclaimed Croupin incredulously. "You were a thief, too?"

Larose looked very solemn. "Apples!" he mouthed in a whisper. "Apples, grapes, and plums!" He laughed again. "Yes, you'll settle down one day all right, and if you marry a girl like Angela Lendon and there are soon six or seven little de Croisy-Hautvilles knocking about, you'll——"

"Don't please, Monsieur," broke in Croupin quickly. "Such things are too sacred to talk about. It hurts me. I must forget about her."

But Croupin would have been very interested if he could have been the fly upon the wall when Mrs. Fox-Drummond and Angela were discussing him after all the tennis-party had gone, at least it was the elder lady who discussed him, for the girl herself made no comment.

"Blood always tells, darling," she said, "and you could see at once from what stock he has sprung. I admit I was charmed with him." She nodded impressively. "And he must mix with the very best in France, to be able to tell us of all those jewels they've got, and the precautions they take to prevent them being stolen. Yes, I think him a charming man."

But the girl was still silent, contenting herself with meditatively opening and shutting her small, white hands. She had noticed Croupin looking at them when she had handed him her cigarette case, and she was wondering if he had thought they were pretty.

Dropping Croupin at his hotel, Larose walked round to Scotland Yard, and was soon in possession of all the facts concerning one, Oscar Bascoigne, who fifteen and a half years previously had been sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, and who, when about five years later had been released upon ticket-of-leave, had failed to report himself, even upon one single occasion, to the authorities.

Bascoigne was 33 years of age at the time of his conviction, and the son of a medical missionary, and born at Yokohama, had been sent to England to be educated. From Winchester College he had gone on to Cambridge, and there had taken a degree with first-class honours. Then for a short time he had been tutor to the sons of a wealthy planter in Ceylon, but the climate not suiting him he had returned to England and entered a stock-broker's office in London. He had speedily shown a genius for finance, and before he was thirty had started company promoting.

At first he had met with success after success, but with no bounds to his ambition his last venture had been the formation of the Cosmopolitan Investment Company with a capital of £2,000,000. There, however, everything had gone against him, and he had soon resorted to devious ways to support the undertaking, which, indeed, had been a failure from the very first.

He had been arrested upon a charge of fraud, and, arraigned before Sir John Lorraine, after a trial lasting eleven days, had been found guilty and sentenced to seven years' penal servitude. He had been sent to the convict prison on Dartmoor, and there his conduct had been of a most exemplary character, and earning full marks he had been released upon ticket-of-leave a little before two years the expiration of the sentence.

That was all there was to learn, but for a long while Larose intently studied the photographs of the ex-convict, trying hard to weigh up what would now be the exact appearance of the man he must look for.

Bascoigne was quite prepossessing and good-looking at the time of his conviction, and of medium height and build he had a face suggesting great determination and force of character. His eyes were large and fearless, and there had been a scornful and contemptuous expression in them as he had stood before the camera.

"But that mouth is sensual," thought Larose, "and unless he's had plenty of hard work he'll have run to fat in all these years. I don't forget that girl said he had a plump white hand."


CHAPTER V.—LAROSE HEARS THE VOICE.

The ex-detective had offered no explanation at the Yard as to why he was so interested in Bascoigne, but he obtained the loan of one of the photographs, and the next morning, provided with a letter of introduction from the Home Office, enjoining all and sundry of His Majesty's subjects to provide one, Thomas Smith, with all the assistance they could furnish, and accompanied by Croupin in the latter's beautiful single-seater Bentley, he took the road for Sussex once again.

Croupin was in a pensive mood, and seemed disinclined to take much interest in the object of their journey.

"Thinking of Angela, eh?" asked Larose as the car swung through Croydon and they narrowly escaped colliding with a tram. "Well, you pay more attention to your driving, please, for I don't want to be measured for my wooden overcoat before I've had my patents of nobility." He spoke more sternly. "Buck up, my friend, and make your atonement by catching these wretches we are after." He laughed slily. "Do you know, Monsieur, that in a couple of days or so, I've got a very dangerous job for you."

"Dangerous!" exclaimed Croupin, his face brightening at once. "Bien, it's love or war always with me, and if there's danger"—he sighed heavily—"I may perhaps be able to forget my other troubles."

"Oh! There'll be danger, right enough," said Larose, "and discomfort, too, for you're going to strip off all those fine clothes and go into the East End to help rout out that throat-cutting barber for me. You'll go as a stoney-broke, my friend."

"I'm quite willing," smiled Croupin, "for I expected a rough house when I joined with you." He speeded up the car. "But what's the business to day?"

"I'm after the voice," replied Larose, "and our first call will be at the post office in East Grinstead. I've mapped it all out and I'm thinking we'll get that voice somehow through some telephone exchange. Listening to voices is the life's work of the girls there, and I reckon some intelligent young woman will soon be putting me upon the trail. I'm not banking too much upon the photo, because in fifteen years he may have altered a lot."

"I'm more convinced than ever that the man must live somewhere in the neighbourhood of the Gibbett Inn, for otherwise he would never have picked upon such an outlandish spot to meet his co-conspirators in. So taking the inn as the centre of the triangle, we're going to try East Grinstead first, then Crowborough, and if we meet with no success, Tunbridge Wells."

They pulled up at the post office in East Grinstead, and Larose was soon in earnest conversation with the postmaster.

"Of course, I'm on a very secret mission," he warned that individual, "and not a word must get out that I am making inquiries. I have approached you first, because naturally every one who lives about here will have come to the post office sooner or later, and you must, in consequence, have some knowledge of everybody. Now, I want a man, 49 years of age, a gentleman in appearance and the way in which he lives, well-to-do, of medium height, may be rather stout in build, of a biggish face and big eyes, and with white, plump hands. He will be very pleasant to talk with, very polite, and, above all, he will have a very nice voice. A voice that will make you think at once of an actor or a public speaker. Oh! one thing more, he most certainly lives on the Ashdown Forest side of here." He regarded the postmaster very intently. "Now, can you pick him out?"

The postmaster looked very doubtful. "You've set me a hard task," he said slowly, "for we've got a lot of good-class people about here." He thought for a long time. "He must be 49?" he asked.

"Yes," replied Larose, "that's his age, but of course he may look older or younger. This is his photo, taken a little over fifteen years ago. Can you recognise it?"

The postmaster shook his head. "No, I know no one like that here," he replied, "and I know no one either who answers to your description."

"Well," said Larose, "we want to take as few people as possible into our confidence. Now please let me have a word with the supervisor over the telephone girls."

But the supervisor yielded no better result. She knew plenty of people with nice voices, but none of whom exactly fitted in with what the detective wanted. She knew no one like the photo.

"Try Forest Row," said the postmaster; "that's nearer the forest, and the postmistress there is very discreet."

But Larose drew blank at Forest Row, and midday found him at Crowborough. There, to his disappointment, he learnt that the official in charge had but recently taken up his duties, and could not help in any way, but upon being introduced to the chief supervisor, his hopes at once went soaring high, for that young lady, upon heaving what he wanted, and being shown the photograph, instead of shaking her head as everybody else had done, nodded smilingly.

"I know some one," she said, "a very little bit like that, but the gentleman I mean is not nearly as old as fifty." She nodded again. "Yes, he's got a beautiful voice, and is a very nice gentleman. He is always most kind to us telephone girls. He often sends cases of fruit to the exchange, and every Christmas we get lovely boxes of chocolates." She looked guardedly at Larose. "But what do you want to know about him for?"

Larose laughed good-naturedly. "Just to check him up, young lady," he replied. He shrugged his shoulders. "It's the usual red-tape Government business, I expect, and may mean nothing at all." His eyes glinted and his voice became very stern. "But it'll be as much as my place and yours are worth, if he gets the very slightest inkling that any one is inquiring about him." He nodded. "And we shall know at once, for he'll instantly complain." His pleasant smile came back. "Well, who is the gentleman?"

"He's Mr. Sheldon-Brown," replied the girl, quite reassured by Larose's smile, "and he lives at The Pines, by Jervis Brook, about a mile from the town."

"But what is he?" asked Larose.

"Oh! he does nothing," she replied. "He's one of the country gentry and a Justice of the Peace here. He has a lovely garden and several of us girls have been up to see his flowers." She became enthusiastic. "He's such a kind man, and does a lot for the town."

"What sort of house has he got," asked Larose, "a big one?"

She shook her head. "Not a very big one," she replied, "but just nice-sized for a bachelor. He keeps a butler and his wife, who is the cook, a house parlour-maid and a gardener, who also attends to his car. He must be very well off." She looked amused. "But you can see him yourself this afternoon, if you want to, for he's sure to be at the Chrysanthemum Show here. His great hobby is flowers."

And so it came about that that afternoon, the very delighted Cynthia Cramm was being escorted by Larose and Croupin to the Chrysanthemum Show at the Crowborough Town Hall. She was attired in her best frock, and knowing exactly what was wanted of her, was thrilled with the thought of the part she was to play. She was going to be tried out, she had been told, to see if she could recognise any of the voices she had heard that Sunday at the inn, and if she did so, she was on no account to start, or show any surprise, but was to just touch Larose upon the arm.

They were at the show before many other people had arrived, and made the round of the exhibits in comfort. Larose asked no questions of any one, but noting some very beautiful blooms with the ticket above them, 'Open class. First Prize. Sheldon-Brown Esq. (gardener, William Harper),' he presently took his station not far away and with the radiant little Cynthia nestling close up to him, waited for events to happen.

The hall was by now well crowded, but he had not been waiting very long, before he heard a rich, deep voice behind him. "Good afternoon, Vicar. Some very fine chrysanthemums here," and he felt Cynthia tremble suddenly, and then she convulsively clutched him by the arm.

He made no movement to turn his head, but returning the squeeze of his small companion, after a few moments, sidled back so that the speaker with the rich voice was in full view, and his heart beat very quickly as he regarded him with apparent idle carelessness.

Then his first feeling was one of keen disappointment, for the man looked very different from the photograph of Oscar Bascoigne, taken fifteen and a half years ago. He was of very much heavier build, squarer in the shoulders, and his face was jovial and hearty-looking, with nothing of the appearance of a furtive and half-crazy conspirator about him.

But then the object of his regard turned his head sideways, and for one fleeting second his eyes rested upon Larose and for perhaps a little longer upon the girl at his side, and in those fleeting seconds all the ex-detective's doubts were unhesitatingly swept away.

The eyes were quite unmistakably the same big, fearless eyes with which Oscar Bascoigne had faced the camera with such unbroken spirit, when his feet had first been set upon the way of seven years of penal servitude with hard labour.

A thrill of exultation surged through Larose, and it was with a great effort only that he managed to appear unconcerned. Then, fearful that Cynthia Cramm should become possessed of too much of the secret, by learning who the silver-tongued stranger was, he pulled her gently away and led her quickly out of the hall.

"That was the man!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I'm sure it was."

"But it can't be," said Larose carelessly and as if he were not much interested, "for we know all about the gentleman and he's quite all right." He looked very solemn. "So you mustn't say even to your parents that you are sure you recognised his voice, for if you do, it'll be getting us all into trouble."

The girl looked very crestfallen. "Then I haven't been of any use to you," she said ruefully.

"But, indeed, you have," replied Larose quickly, "and through you we shall certainly get them in the end." He smiled brightly at her. "Now I've got a little surprise for you, and I'm sure you will be delighted. Lord Ransome wants to make you a present, and so my nice-looking friend here is going to take you to the best jeweller in Crowborough and buy you a pretty wrist-watch before he drives you back home."

He bustled the excited girl into the car and then pulling Croupin aside, whispered quickly. "Don't spend more than three or four pounds on the watch or it will make the girl look conspicuous. Then drive her home quickly and come back here and wait for me at the Crown Hotel." He lowered one eye-lid stealthily. "Yes, we've made a bulls-eye all right. It was the man," and then, waiting until Croupin had driven off with the girl, he returned into the hall.

The silver-voiced man was now the centre of a little group of fashionably dressed ladies, and a matronly-looking one, with two pretty girls, who were obviously her daughters, was pressing him gushingly to go back with her for a cocktail.

"I would with pleasure, Mrs. Melton," he replied with an admiring smile at the girls, "if it were not that I am going away for two nights and am due in town by five o'clock. I'm not even going back home, but am now going to rush off as quickly as I can."

A few minutes later then, having seen him drive off in his beautifully appointed car, in the direction of London, Larose thought it a splendid opportunity to pay a visit to 'The Pines.'

"It's just possible I may want to look inside that place," he nodded, "and now that I know he'll be away, I'll walk up and just see what it's like. I'll make an excuse that I want to see Sheldon-Brown about a new carpet-sweeper."

The Pines was an old-world house of two stories, covered with ivy and surrounded on all sides by flowerbeds and stretches of immaculately kept lawn. A short drive of about a hundred yards led up to the front door.

Entering the drive Larose saw a motor bicycle upon its stand, just near the front door, and approaching close he noticed a large coil of copper wire tied upon the pillion seat of the machine. Then he saw that the hall door was ajar.

He pumped upon the electric bell, and although he distinctly heard it ring in a far part of the house, after a full two minutes no one had appeared in answer to his call. He tried it again, but with the same result. Then he gently pushed the door wider open and looking inside, saw the hall was untenanted. A large pair of steps, however, stood just beneath a central electric light, and at the foot of the steps was a gaping bag of workman's tools.

"Ah! that's it!" he exclaimed. "The electrician's here and probably doing a line with the maids in the back-kitchen, instead of attending to his work."

Then suddenly he became aware of the sounds of talking and laughter in the garden, and, stepping quickly to one of the corners of the building, he looked round cautiously to see what was happening.

Then he felt inclined to laugh, too, for about a hundred and fifty yards away two men and two maids in print dresses were gathered round the foot of a tall tree, and all of them craning their heads up and looking among the branches. A good way up the tree was a third man, and he, with, a long piece of stick, was vainly endeavouring to dislodge a big red parrot, ensconced higher up, and with a short length of broken chain hanging from one of its legs.

The fun was fast and furious, and the girls shrieked with laughter at the ineffectual efforts of the man with the stick.

Larose was a quick thinker. "One—two—five," he counted, "the two maids, the butler, the gardener, and the electrician. Yes, they are all there, and they look as if they would be engaged for the next few minutes."

Then in a trice he was inside the house and getting the lie of the land. He ran the length of the hall, looking into every room as he passed. "Breakfast-room, dining-room, drawing-room," he muttered. "Ah! and the master's study!"

He entered the last room and ran to the window. It faced the tree where the parrot had taken refuge and he could see that it was still uncaptured and the laughter and the shouting still going on. Then he took a quick look all round the study and he frowned as his eyes fell upon a safe that was let into the wall.

"A good one," was his lightning comment, "and it'd be deuced hard to open! Still, still, Croupin,"—he nodded—"I expect Croupin's pretty smart."

Dismissing the safe from his mind, he next turned his attention to the drawers of the desk and pulled at them to find them, however, as he had expected, all locked. Then he glided to the long French window. There was no alarm attached, but the bolts were big and strong, and would be very difficult, he saw, to tamper with from outside. He stood still, in deep thought, for a few moments, and then seeing that the parrot-party were still by the tree, a smile overspread his face, and forming a sudden resolution, he darted into the hall, to return in a few seconds with a screwdriver and a file that he had taken from the electrician's bag.

Then for ten minutes, and with his eyes every other moment upon the domestics outside, he worked like a demon-possessed. He took out every screw attaching to the big bolts to the window, pulling up a small occasional table to get at those in the upper one. Then he well filed all their threads, so that they would have a poor hold in the wood, and screwed them back.

"Now," he grinned, "one good pull at this window from outside and the bolts will drop off, and we can get in without any noise. Croupin and I will come here to-morrow night when we've got a few things together to tackle those drawers and that safe."

He replaced the tools where he had found them, and then finding that he was still not likely to be interrupted, made a leisurely survey of the whole house, noting with satisfaction, that the servants' quarters were a long way distant from the front door and that there were no burglar alarms anywhere in the house. The whole place was beautifully furnished, and replete with comforts and conveniences of every conceivable kind.

But then suddenly he heard the sound of footsteps upon the gravel outside and he had just time to fly back and let the butler find him standing patiently before the hall door. No, Mr. Brown wasn't in, he was told, and they didn't want another carpet sweeper, for the one they already had was a very good one. Of course he could call again if he wished, but he, the butler, did not think it would be much good.

Returning to Crowborough he had another talk with the supervisor. "Well, I've seen your Mr. Sheldon-Brown," he smiled, "and he's all you said, a very charming gentleman." He shrugged his shoulders. "Still I've got to find out all about him, you see, and I just want to know who are his best friends here."

The girl smiled archly. "Men or women?" she asked.

"Men," laughed Larose, "for from what I saw at the flower show just now all the ladies are his best friends."

But then he could get nothing out of the girl, for after suggesting humorously that if telephone calls counted for anything the town fish-monger must be Mr. Sheldon-Brown's best friend, in as much as the fish shop was rung up almost every day, she could tell him nothing more. Mr. Brown rang up plenty of people in the neighbourhood, but no particular person often, and he very seldom made a trunk call, and then always apparently on business.

That night in Croupin's private sitting-room at the Savoy Larose went over all he had learnt that day. "But you see," he concluded, "although we are morally certain ourselves, we shall have no legal evidence that this Sheldon-Brown is the convict Bascoigne until we get his finger-prints, and then we mustn't touch him until we can bring it home convincingly that he's been mixed up in these crimes. Also, we've got to find who the other three are." He nodded. "Yes, and until we've got his finger-prints we'll keep quiet, then"—he looked very pleased with himself—"we'll drop a bombshell into the Yard."

"Bien!" exclaimed Croupin gleefully, "and to-morrow night we are to break into his house and open that safe." He looked rather doubtful. "But I'm not too sure after what you've told me." He smiled sadly. "I always called in an expert."

The following morning Larose was early about, and while Croupin was busy collecting tools for the night's adventure made an excursion into the city and interviewed his wife's stockbroker. The latter remembered Bascoigne well, but could add little to the information Larose already possessed. Then suddenly the stockbroker's face brightened. "Ah!" he exclaimed, "but I can put you on to one of Oscar Bascoigne's old servants and he'll tell you all about him. The commissionaire in these very buildings was in his employ when the crash came. He was his valet."

Delighted with this stroke of good fortune, Larose was soon in conversation with the commissionaire and found the latter nothing loth to tell all he remembered about his old master. For half an hour and more they talked together, and Larose, with skilful questioning, drew out all the salient features of Bascoigne's private life, his habits, his likings, and how he spent his time when away from the city.

The interview over, and with plenty of time upon his hands before he was due to meet Croupin, Larose decided he would go and see what were the surroundings of the house in Mayfair where Bascoigne lived, and, to his amazement at the coincidence, perceived Bascoigne himself step out of the front door, just when he, Larose was only about 20 yards away.

Much to Larose's relief Bascoigne at once proceeded to make his way in the opposite direction, walking briskly along with the gait and stride of a man who was always very sure of himself and knew his own mind.

"I'll follow him," though Larose delightedly, "for Fortune is dealing me such good cards now it is quite possible our friend may be going to meet one of those very nice associates of his. Anyhow, I'll trail him."

But Fortune was certainly not going to be generous there, for reaching the Athenis restaurant in Piccadilly, Bascoigne turned in quickly, and looking neither to the right nor to the left, as if he were not expecting to meet any one, took his seat at a small table and picked up the menu.

Larose followed suit, but mindful of the fact that he had stood close to the man at the flower show and that for a few seconds those big eyes had rested thoughtfully upon him and Cynthia Cramm, he seated himself where he was partly hidden from his quarry by a large palm.

Bascoigne ordered a dozen oysters, a portion of turbot, and a small bottle of claret that was served in the cradle. He partook of his meal leisurely and as if he thoroughly enjoyed it. Then when he called for his bill, Larose saw him put down a pound note and receive back only two shillings in change.

"Gosh!" thought Larose, "but he must have plenty of money! That wine then cost him about twelve shillings!"

Bascoigne sat on for a few minutes and then rose up with an abrupt movement, and proceeded to walk quickly out of the room, as before, taking no notice of any one in his passing.

But he had not gone 20 paces before Larose was upon his feet also, and stepping quickly over to the table he had just vacated, to the amazement of the waiter who had started to clear things away, snapped up the wineglass from which Bascoigne had just been drinking.

"Fetch the manager at once, please," he ordered sternly. "I want to speak to him," and returning to his own table, he put down the wineglass which he had been holding by the stem.

The manager soon put in his appearance and Larose motioned him to a chair.

"I'm from Scotland Yard," he said quickly. "Sit down, will you, and then we shan't attract attention." He showed him his badge and went on. "What's happened is this. A man whose finger-prints we want badly has just been lunching at that table there. I've got the prints on this wine-glass and it must be put somewhere where it won't be touched until our men come down to deal with it. They'll be here in less than half an hour. You understand?"

The manager nodded and then Larose said sharply, "Now, call that waiter here and ask him if he knows who the customer was?"

"But I'm sure, he won't," smiled the manager, "for he's only been employed here a couple of days."

"Then make him hold his tongue," said Larose, "for if the man should happen to come again he must get no inkling that we've been inquiring about him. Here, I'll speak to the waiter, please."

A few minutes later then, Larose was again with the Chief Commissioner and relating to him all he had found out; how he had succeeded in linking up one of the men of the Gibbett Inn with both Sir John Lorraine and Mortimer Fairfax, the K.C., and how through the latter he had determined the man's identity; how he had scoured the country round the inn for him, and with what result and how finally, without any shadow of doubt, Cynthia Cramm had recognised the voice. Then he told of the fingerprints upon the wine-glass, and how he was sure they would prove to be those of the convict, Bascoigne.

The Commissioner listened thoughtfully, with no expression of surprise, and made no remark until Larose had finished.

Then with a nod in which great satisfaction, and yet a slight annoyance were blended, he remarked:

"Splendid! We did well to ask for your services. Great imagination was wanted here, and we didn't seem to have it." He sat up sharply in his chair. "Now what are your suggestions for our next moves?"

"Tap his telephone, of course," replied Larose, "and note every call he makes and receives. We ought to get at his associates that way. Then trail him, but rather lose him than press him too closely at this stage, for if any of them get the slightest suspicion, they'll bolt to their holes and be as mum as dead men. You've only got to-day to shadow Bascoigne from Charles Street, for unless he alters his mind, he returns to Crowborough to-morrow."

"Well, give me the best description you can of him," said the commissioner, "as you say he's altered so much from the photo we have."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Larose said, "Now, to go off on another tack. Will you send out a call to every east-end station for the names and locations of every barber of foreign extraction, with a shop in their districts? Any kind of foreigner, but I rather think the man I want will be a Swiss, and also he will live in a commercial centre, and not too far from the river, perhaps."

"What do you want with him?" asked the Commissioner curiously.

"Oh, it's a very long shot," laughed Larose, "and I won't bother you with imaginative details now." He added quickly, "but on no account must it be known any one is making inquiries. Yes, and another thing. To-morrow I'd like to borrow a man who knows the east-end well. However, I'll be here first thing in the morning and may be have a bit more news for you then. I'm going back to Crowborough this afternoon."

Some two hours later the Commissioner with an official from the fingerprint department standing at his side, was comparing two photographs under a powerful magnifying glass. The Commissioner had a very frowning expression upon his face.


CHAPTER VI.—THE SECRETS OF THE RIVER.

That same night, a few minutes before nine o'clock, a man alighted from a first-class carriage at Limehouse Station, and turning up his coat collar and pressing down his hat well upon his forehead, proceeded to make his way briskly through the squalid streets. The air was chilly and the river mist hung everywhere.

At all times, to most people, the mean side-streets of the East End of London are depressing, but they are particularly so at night, for then with the houses badly lit they suggest poverty, as surely as do the gaunt faces of the passers-by. The dark, and often blindless windows, make one think of want and hunger, and of ill-clothed human beings, lacking so much of the happiness of life.

However, the man with the turned-up collar was evidently troubled with none of these thoughts, for his face was cheerful and he carried himself jauntily, as if he were upon some mission of pleasure.

Arriving at the shop of Voisin, the barber, in Rent Street and finding the door, as he had apparently expected, unlatched, he pushed it open very quietly, and entered the shop without ceremony. Then he pushed the door to behind him, but did not close it.

The shop was in darkness, but there was a light in the room behind it, and the barber himself was seated there, reading a newspaper before a small gas-fire. Making no sound, he rose instantly and advanced a few paces when he heard the footsteps in the shop, but then immediately the tension of his face relaxed when he saw who the visitor was.

"Good evening," said the latter with a friendly smile. "Am I the first one here?"

The barber nodded. "Yes, sir," he replied, "but nine has not struck yet," and then, without another word, the visitor passed through the room into the yard beyond.

Almost exactly at the same time another man entered Ah Chung's dimly lighted shop in the same stealthy manner, and was received by a bowing figure, which glided like a shadow from somewhere among the many bales and packing cases that were crowded there.

The man nodded good-humouredly. "Anyone here, Ah Chung?" he asked.

"Yes, Mr. Brown," replied the Chinaman, as he now softly shot the bolts of the shop door, "Mr. Mason came some minutes ago, and"—he stood for two seconds in a listening attitude—"Sir Charles is now walking up the stairs."

"Well, I want to speak to you before I go up," said Bascoigne. "I have a commission for you, for which you will be very well paid." He lowered his voice impressively. "In about half an hour, a man will call next door, and ask for some canary seed. He is short and very dark. Take the usual precautions and bring him up to us at once. Then, when later I knock for you to take him away, if you see me offer him a cigarette"—he hesitated a moment—"can you arrange that he doesn't go very far?"

Ah Chung's face was quite expressionless. "Why?" he asked.

"We are not certain of him," was the low reply, "and then we shall have judged if he is dangerous—to you, as well as to us, for he has been drinking heavily lately, and we believe him to have taken some one into his confidence."

"Why arrange for him to come here, if you doubt him?" asked Ah Chung. "You promised you would bring no danger to me."

"It was a mistake," replied Bascoigne quickly, "and I only heard of it after it had been done. He went to Mr. Mason's office this morning, but Mr. Mason could not deal with him as he would have liked to, because he had brought a friend who was waiting outside. Mr. Mason saw this other man through the window."

"Then the friend will be waiting here to-night?" said Ah Chung softly. "There will be two of them."

"Yes," nodded Bascoigne, "and Mr. Mason recognised the other man as a Dick Funnell. He has just come out of prison. He is stout like this Tod Blitzer. They are cousins, I understand."

"I know him," said Ah Chung. "I know them both, and they are dangerous men to have you in their power. You should have asked me before you employed Blitzer. I know many people round here."

"Well, you see, Ah Chung," went on Bascoigne in an apparent burst of confidence, "we are taking great risks in supplying insurgents in friendly countries with ammunition, and if we are caught it means heavy punishment. But there is big money in it, and as I have told you, you are going to share."

Ah Chung made no comment, but he was under no delusions, very much doubting if the business of this Mr. Brown and his friends had anything to do with ammunition. He certainly did not know what the business was, but that very morning he had completed the insertion of a secret panel near the fireplace of the room in which they always met, and before midnight he was confident he would have learnt all he wanted to.

"Well, can you manage it for us, if we think it necessary?" asked Bascoigne anxiously. "It will mean a hundred pounds to you if you do."

"Two hundred!" said Ah Chung, "for there will be great risk for three hours. The river is not high until nearly one, and the flow is not strong then, for half an hour."

"All right," nodded Bascoigne. "£200 and you shall have the money before we leave." He thought for a moment. "Shall we give him something to drink before you come for him?"

"It will not be necessary," said Ah Chung.

"But how will you get hold of the second man?" asked Bascoigne. "He will probably be on the look out for any trick."

"I will manage it," replied the Chinaman quietly. "My family will help me."

"Good!" exclaimed Bascoigne, and with no more parley he proceeded to mount the narrow stairs at the back of the shop.

Bascoigne found Guildford and Sir Charles Carrion awaiting him in a large room on the first floor, with the window overlooking the river. The ex-solicitor looked worried and morose, but the surgeon, from the cheerful expression upon his face, was in one of his brightest moods.

"Killed any one to-day, Sir Charles?" laughed Bascoigne. "You look so happy."

"I am," laughed back the surgeon. He rubbed his hands together. "I have but little now of the gold of life to spend, but what I have, I am spending lavishly." He patted Bascoigne upon the shoulder. "If it were not that I am slowly dying from this cirrhosed liver of mine, you would have gone a long way to making me a young man again, my friend, for I am enjoying everything immensely." He nodded solemnly. "Yes, I have killed a man to-day, although he's not dead yet. I operated this morning. A simple hernia, but I intended complications should ensue, for he is a bad man and so he'll die to-morrow, or the day after."

"What's he done then, and how will you benefit by it?" asked Guildford, his beady eyes blinking curiously.

The great surgeon smiled. "I shall not benefit in any way, Mr. Guildford," he replied, "if indeed it is in your nature to understand that, but I am doing a work of humanity by putting this man away. He is a bad character, and I know him well. He has a young wife, but he is cruel to her. They have not been married two years and he strikes her, also he is gambling his money away and keeps an expensive mistress. He is of no use to any one and so I feel I am justified in returning him to his Maker. Then his wife will marry again—I've heard she has a lover—and she will know some of the happiness she deserves. She is a charming young woman."

"I shouldn't care to be one of your patients," growled Guildford. "I shouldn't feel safe."

"Perhaps not," laughed Sir Charles, "for during all my career I have occasionally exercised my prerogative in cases like the one I just mentioned." He frowned. "But I think I should like to attend you, for you've got a high blood-pressure, I'm quite sure and also the whites of your eyes, I notice are often yellow, and"—but the door opened quickly and Dr. Libbeus stepped into the room.

"Take your seats, gentlemen," interrupted Bascoigne. "We've some important business to-night. Switch on that light, please, Professor, and we'll sit as usual in the middle of the room. The Chinaman seems all right"—he laughed—"but never forget the old maxim that walls have ears, and I feel safer away from them."

But for some reason the light he pointed to, a large one in the ceiling in the centre of the room, was out of order, and the switch brought no response.

"Call Ah Chung," ordered Bascoigne, "He'll——"

"Rot!" exclaimed Sir Charles irritably. "Don't be such a suspicious brute, Bascoigne." He pulled a chair up before the fire. "I, for one, am going to sit here." He sighed. "Physically, I feel pretty bad to-day, and I want warmth on a night like this."

Dr. Libbeus and Guildford at once pulled their chairs up too, and after a moment's hesitation, Bascoigne followed suit. "But it's again all my principles," he grumbled, "for I only trust those whom I've got absolutely under my thumb."

Sir Charles smiled disdainfully, but the other two took no notice and then Bascoigne went on quickly.

"Now, I went down to Mr. Guildford's office this afternoon and learnt that an unfortunate happening occurred to-day. Blitzer was there this morning and demanding an extravagant sum for what he called holding his tongue about that Kingston Reservoir business. He seems to think somehow that he's struck a gold-mine in us, and although he is quite aware that Guildford here could tip him off to the police for killing that woman in the sweet-shop at Hoxton, still, he believes that the information he could give about that bag of arsenic he was paid to drop in the reservoir would not only obtain a free pardon for him, but also a substantial reward as well. That is the position, is it not, Mr. Guildford?"

"It's worse than that," nodded Guildford gloomily, "for he's had two bad bouts of drinking lately, and became very dangerous, because he's evidently been talking. When he called at my place this morning he wouldn't go into the back room, and said he'd got a friend waiting for him outside who knew what to do if he didn't soon come out again." He nodded again. "I saw that friend, too, on the other side of the road, watching my house. I knew him by sight, and he's another drinker, even more dangerous than Blitzer." He looked rather sheepish. "So, on the spur of the moment, the only thing I could think of, was to tell him to come here and meet us all to-night. He'll come at half past nine and he wants £1000."

"Well, what are we going to do?" asked Sir Charles quickly. "Can't we get rid of them both?"

"That's what's in my mind," said Bascoigne, "and I've just had a little talk with Ah Chung about it. He's going to show the man up here, and then if I give him a signal, well—he's going to see that the fellow never goes out again. I'm certain we must put him away, but we'll try to find out first to whom he's been talking."

"But what about his friend," asked Sir Charles, "supposing he's watching outside?"

"Ah Chung will deal with him, too," replied Bascoigne. "He knows all about it."

They talked on for a few minutes, and then there was a knock upon the door and the barber entered. "Ah Chung has a man downstairs who wants to speak to you," he said in a deep, guttural voice, and speaking with a strong accent. "Is he to bring him up?"

"Yes, at once," replied Bascoigne, and so, not a couple of minutes later, a blind-folded man was being led into the room by Ah Chung.

"Take off his bandage," said Bascoigne to the Chinaman, "and then leave us until I knock for you. Sit down, Blitzer, will you. There's a chair."

The man from whose eyes the bandage had been removed for a few moments blinked owlishly at the light, and then, almost before the soft-footed Ah Chung had had time to leave the room, blurted out hoarsely, "See here, you gents. I'm all ready for any tricks, and you'd better know it—straight. I've got a pal watching outside, and if I'm not back to him in half an hour, he's got a paper to give to the police."

"Don't worry, Mr. Blitzer," smiled Bascoigne suavely, "for no one's going to play you any tricks. You shall have that £1000, or at any rate, part of it, if you can convince us you've not been talking to any one about that little job we employed you to do."

"I haven't been talking anywhere," protested the man hotly. "I've not told anything, even to my mate who's looking after me. I've just promised him a quid to hold a letter for me until I come out. That's all."

"Well, why are you now demanding an exorbitant sum for work you didn't even do?" asked Bascoigne sternly. "We paid you £50 for taking that lime to the reservoir, and——"

"Lime, be damned!" sneered the man contemptuously. "It was white arsenic, every bit of it, for my dog licked my hand when I got home, and was sick for a week. The vet said it was poisoning by arsenic, he'd got."

"Well, that's nothing to do with the money," smiled Bascoigne, appearing in no wise disconcerted. "You agreed for £50, and now—you come bullying for a thousand."

"I'm not bullying," said the man doggedly, "but him and you"—he pointed to Sir Charles and Bascoigne—"are swells, and can afford to pay. I've followed you both. He eats at swell restaurants, and the door-keeper of one of them told me he was Sir Charles Carrion, and you drive a posh limousine and take fine ladies out to supper. You must have plenty of money, and I see I wasn't paid enough."

Sir Charles Carrion burst into a hearty laugh. "We must give him something," he said. "He's a shrewd fellow, and we can employ him again." He shook his head. "But not £1000, my friend, that's too much, much too much."

"Don't pay him any lump sum," said Dr. Libbeus emphatically, and speaking now for the first time. "Let him have £5 every week as long as he holds his tongue, and then if he knows that money's coming, we can be sure of him."

"No. I want £1000," said the man firmly, "and I won't take a quid less."

"But how do we know you haven't been talking about us?" asked Bascoigne grimly. "You may have put the police on to us already."

"Upon my oath, no," swore the man vehemently. "I shouldn't be such a damned fool to blow upon you until I knew for certain you were no good to me."

A short silence followed, and then Bascoigne said slowly. "Well, I'll tell you what I will do. I'll give you £200 to-night, that's all we've got here, another £200 to-morrow if you call at the bird shop at eleven in the morning, and £50 a month as long as you keep straight. Now, will that do?"

The man's eyes gleamed, but he pretended to hesitate. "All right," he said after a moment. "I suppose I'll have to take it."

Bascoigne at once took out his pocket book and counted out twenty £10 notes.

"Now," he said sternly, "you go straight with us in future and you'll find it will pay you better. We'll have another job for you soon, and will pay you well. Now, off you go, and don't you breathe a word about us to your pal." He held up his hand, as the man was making for the door. "No, no, you wait, please, until that Chink comes up to blindfold you. It won't do for you to know too much about this place."

The man smiled contemptuously. He guessed pretty well he was in the house next door, for he had counted his footsteps and also, had felt the night air as he had passed through the back yard and realised, too, that the smell of the live-stock shop had gone.

Ah Chung appeared quickly, as quickly, indeed, as he could make his way from the spy-hole he had made in the wall, and solemnly, with great care, began folding a length of black cloth to bandage the man's eyes again.

"Here, have one of my cigarettes," said Bascoigne with a smile, holding out his cigarette case to Blitzer, "if only to convince you that we bear you no ill-will." He turned to Ah Chung. "Now you see him safely out of the street," he commended, "for we've entrusted him with £200 of our money for a special purpose, and we don't want it taken from him." Ah Chung smiled deep down in his inscrutable heart, guessing that it was the £200 he himself was going to receive.

A few minutes after Blitzer had left the room, a wizened little old Chinaman shuffled up to a man who was leaning idly against the river wall about a hundred yards distant from Ah Chung's shop.

"You Dickee Funnell?" he asked in broken English, and taking no care to lower his voice.

The man started. "No, that's not my name," he replied sharply, and a dead silence followed.

The Chinaman looked up and down the deserted street. "I want Dickee Funnell," he said slowly. "His friend, Toddee Blitzer tell me to go and fetch him. He drinking in the bird shop."

"Well, I'm not this Funnell, I tell you," grunted the man. He regarded the old Chinaman warily. "Who's this chap, Blitzer?"

"Not know," replied the Chinaman. "He come buy birdseed, and after talkee with boss, buy rum and drink. He say he have friend just come out of prison, and he like drink, too. I know nothing more," and he started to shuffle off along the street.

"Here, you wait a minute," called out the man. He lowered his voice suddenly. "What did you say about someone having just come out of prison?"

"Just that he come out," replied the Chinaman. "He drinking, I say, and talk much about how he going to spend his money."

"Damn!" swore the man softly to himself, "and if the fool is drinking he'll blab everything." His thoughts ran quickly on. "He must have told them I've come out of quod. They couldn't have known it, if he'd said nothing." He hesitated a moment. "I don't like it, but it seems O.K."

He touched the Chinaman upon the arm. "All right, Chink," he said. "I'll come. My name's not Funnell, but the bloke may mean me."

The Chinaman nodded. "All right, then. You follow me. I take you where Toddee drinking rum."

But the old man was in no hurry and he stopped many times to peer over the river wall, on to the dark waters beyond.

"What's up?" asked the man at length. "What do you see?"

The old Chinaman pointed with his arm. "That black spot," he said, "Him police boat." He smiled a toothless smile. "We always look out police boat here."

They arrived at the livestock shop at last. The door was ajar and there was a light shining inside. Some one was playing softly upon a mouth organ in the room behind and there was the cheerful clink of glasses, and then a girl laughed. The man stepped over the threshold—there was the sound of a dull thud, and all the lights disappeared as suddenly as if they had been blown out.

A few moments later, the old Chinaman emerged again and, crossing over the street, leant over the river wall and for a long while regarded the black smudge he had just been pointing out, upon the water. He had now got an expensive pair of binoculars with him, that he had produced from somewhere under the folds of his greasy clothes.

In the meantime the four men in the room above Ah Chung's shop had been continuing their deliberations.

"But, of course, ours is not by any means the only organisation of its kind," remarked Sir Charles thoughtfully, "and I confess I am rather disappointed. I have been reading up criminology lately and note that many such societies have existed before. In Prague in 1885, in Marseilles in 1897, and in Vienna in 1904, here in Sydney Street in 1911, and——"'

"Never mind about that," broke in Guildford rudely. "We have other things to talk about now, for I heard a bit of bad news this afternoon." He paused a moment to look round frowningly and then rapped out, "Gilbert Larose went to Scotland Yard yesterday, and was there for more than two hours."

A puzzled silence followed and then Bascoigne asked curiously. "Well, what's that to do with us?"

Guildford pursed up his lips. "That's what I should like to know," he replied, "for it certainly means something. Larose married a rich wife two years ago, and left the Force then, and if he spent all that time at the Yard yesterday, depend upon it he didn't go there on a purely friendly visit to any one."

Another silence followed and then it was Bascoigne who spoke again. "How do you know he was there?" he asked.

"One of my clients saw him," replied Guildford. "He had to go there to answer a lot of silly questions about where he was when that jeweller's shop was broken into in Wardour Street last week, and he saw him going in. Then, just for curiosity he waited to see him come out." He raised his voice. "Two hours, mark you, and that Larose is a regular devil!" He nodded solemnly. "I believe they've got him back to come after us."

Sir Charles Carrion looked very pleased. "Excellent!" he exclaimed, "for I'm tired of this one-sided business. We've had everything our own way up to now, but with Larose after us it will double our danger and our sport." He rubbed his hands together exultingly. "I know all about the fellow. He's the chap who makes two murderers grow, where only one grew before, and disguised as a baby in arms, he handcuffs the pretty housemaid just as she is handing over the family jewels to the greengrocer next door."

Guildford looked furious but made no comment, and after a minute Bascoigne asked him thoughtfully. "What's Larose like? Describe him to me."

Guildford hesitated. "He's devilish difficult to describe," he said slowly, "for there's nothing very particular about him. He's of medium height and build. He's not bad looking and he's fair with blue eyes."

"Does he dress well?" asked Bascoigne sharply.

"Well, he didn't too well, when a detective," replied Guildford, "at least when I saw him down our way. Still, of course, he never wanted to make himself conspicuous then, and I suppose he suited his clothes to the job he was on." He looked interestedly at Bascoigne. "But why do you ask?"

Again Bascoigne hesitated and then he spoke very slowly. "I've been thinking a lot to-day of a man I saw at the Crowborough Flower Show yesterday afternoon. He was a well-dressed man who was with one of the Cramm children from the Gibbett Inn, a girl about fourteen and I——"

"But you said you did not know any one at the Gibbett Inn," broke in Guildford quickly. "You told us you had never been there before that day when you got us down to lunch."

"Neither I had," explained Bascoigne, "and, up to then, I had never set eyes on anybody who lived there. But last month, when they were tarring the main road that leads to Eastbourne, I went by several times, and, in passing, noticed this young girl, more than once, sitting on that form outside the inn door. I could tell who she was for she's very like Cramm himself, who serves in the bar."

He went on meditatively, "Well, I saw the man who was with her at the show twice within the space of a few minutes, and, thinking things over afterwards, something has somehow made me feel rather suspicious. The first time, he was standing with the girl just behind me, and I thought at once that she was staring hard at me. Then she and the man went out of the hall, but not five minutes later I found the man close near me again, when I was talking to some ladies." He frowned. "That's all, but now you bring up this Larose it sort of makes me wonder about this man and why, in all that crowded hall, he should have come and stood by me for the second time."

"Did the man stare hard at you, too?" asked Sir Charles, now very interested.

Bascoigne shook his head. "No, he never took any notice of me at all."

"Ah!" came from Guildford in an explosive exclamation, "and that would be just like Larose if the man were he." He nodded excitedly. "You take it from me, from what men whom Larose has shadowed have told me, when he's upon your trail you appear to be the last person in the world he's interested in. I've heard it over and over again."

Dr. Libbeus laughed derisively. "And because you meet a man who doesn't look at you," he said to Bascoigne, "you imagine at once he must be a detective! It's very amusing."

"There's nothing amusing about it," snapped Bascoigne, "I don't like to think that girl stared at me, and then that the man who was with her sent her away, and then came and planted himself again at my side."

"Well, you'll soon know if he were Larose," nodded Guildford with a grim smile, "for if he's on your trail, you'll very quickly be meeting that same man again." He looked round impressively. "It's part of Larose's method, to get close up to any one he suspects, even if he's not got a scrap of evidence against him, for his idea is that he can read the chap's thoughts and tell if he's got anything to hide." He slapped the fist of one hand into the palm of the other. "I tell you he drops on things by instinct, without any thinking out whatsoever."

"Rubbish!" exclaimed Sir Charles rudely. "Instinct is the servant only of the body, and never that of the mind. With any problem before them people are often too lazy to think, or deduce, and so they start guessing instead—especially women. Then, if they happen to have guessed correctly, they shout it was instinct that told them to do this or that, but if they have guessed wrong you don't hear them, for they hold their tongues."

"But how could any one have become suspicious about you, Bascoigne?" asked Dr. Libbeus.

Bascoigne shrugged his shoulders. "I don't really believe any one has," he smiled. "I think it's just 'nerves.'"

"Of course it is," said Sir Charles reassuringly. "You come back with me to-night, and I'll give you a draught that will soon put you right."

"No! no!" exclaimed Bascoigne hurriedly, and he smiled again. "After what you've been telling us to-night about how you conduct your practice, your dose might prove too strong."

"But is it likely this Gilbert Larose would be taking to detective work again," asked Dr. Libbeus scornfully, "now he's married a rich widow and got plenty of money?"

"Most likely," retorted Guildford instantly. "In fact, that's just what he would do, for the whole business is just sport and excitement to him. When he was at the Yard he'd take any risks and put no value on his life to get his man." He nodded viciously. "At any rate, I'll soon find out if the gentleman is now away from his home in Norfolk and if he is"—he nodded more viciously still—"we'll make things hot for him." He looked round upon the others. "But now, I vote we all lie low and do nothing more for a little while."

"Oh! no," said Sir Charles instantly. "I don't agree there. The professor and I have several projects in view and they can't be put off, either."

"But I've got the wind up about that Larose," said Guildford irritably, "and I don't mind admitting it. Why not take a spell? We've done all we set out to do, and got our revenge everywhere where we wanted to."

"We haven't got all yet, Mr. Guildford," said Bascoigne, his hand clenching, and his eyes hardening instantly. "Remember, I haven't touched that scoundrel Mortimer Fairfax yet, and I shall never have a dreamless slumber until he's dead." He controlled himself and spoke very quietly. "Come, come, sir, don't let us disagree now when, all along, we have got on so well. Think—we have been good comrades, and helped one another loyally, and we have none of us shrunk from anything. You put out that tea-broker at Leigh-on-sea, who first stirred up the prosecution against you, and you also finished the solicitor, Clutterbuck, who was most active in getting your name struck off the rolls. Then Dr. Libbeus put paid to that one time colleague of his at Great Leighs, who had denounced him to the police, and Sir Charles shot Lord Burkington who was the main offender in getting him certified for an asylum. Lastly, I killed that unjust judge, and, by mistake, that old clergyman." He made a gesture with his hands. "So you see by what bonds of law-breaking we are united, and how each one of us could give the other away."

"But you may be suspect now," said Guildford doggedly, "and from what you have told us, I think you are. You may be dangerous to us all."

Bascoigne looked uneasy. "Well, keep away from me for a time," he said, forcing a smile, "and only 'phone to me from a call-office, and then be careful what you say, until we have made sure that no one is inquiring about me." He turned to Sir Charles Carrion, "Shall you want me in what you are now proposing to do?"

"No, you will be better out of it," replied Sir Charles at once—he nodded towards Guildford—"but I shall want him, and I may want"—he hesitated, a moment—"to enlist the services of that Swiss barber as well. Ah Chung assures me he is a very trustworthy man and has been in prison in his own country."

"But I'm quitting, I tell you," scowled Guildford. "There is no profit in cutting throats."

Sir Charles held up one hand protestingly. "But there will be no shedding of blood in this adventure I am proposing to you. It's just a little matter of picking up some jewels, of great value and worth of mint of money." He bent forward in the most confiding manner. "The proposal is this. One of my esteemed aunts, Lady Rostrellor, of Rostrellor Court, is giving a grand ball next week at Addington, and it will be preceded the night before by a big dinner party. The Rostrellor diamonds and sundry other knickshaws will be brought up from the bank to figure in both functions, and with me as a guest at the Court, I thought it would be an easy matter to arrange for you to step in and appropriate the lot."

Guildford eyed him with great intentness, but made no remark, and he went on with his eyes twinkling. "It will be a welcome diversion from our usual line of business, and put a wholesome fear into folks of those circles where a vulgar and ostentatious display of riches is made." He shrugged his shoulders. "Of course, if you happen to kill a footman or two, it will frighten them all the more."

"But your aunt, Sir Charles!" exclaimed Bascoigne, looking very shocked. "A blood relation of yours!"

"Certainly!" replied Sir Charles carelessly. "My father's sister, and very foolish old woman at that. I have told her many times that these baubles only accentuate the dreadful yellowness of her skin, but she pays no attention to me, for she is obsessed that she looks different from the common people in them." He chuckled. "So she does—like an old corpse trying to ape the freshness of a beautiful young girl."

Guildford was still silent and he went on quickly. "Oh! I may add, as a relation of the Rostrellor family, that you will be quite welcome to retain all the proceeds of the jewels for yourself." He bowed. "I shall make you a present of them."

"But I don't like these isolated country houses," growled Guildford. "The slightest warning, and you can't get away in your car."

"But there will be no need for any car," said Sir Charles instantly, "and that makes the whole business so easy. I have a little bungalow by the Keston lakes, that has been lent me by a friend who has gone abroad, not a couple of miles away, and, as a friend of mine, you can stay there as long as you like and be quite above suspicion until you are able to get to town with the plunder."

"But how could we get in?" asked Guildford doubtfully.

"Through the front door that I'll leave open," replied Sir Charles, "or, failing that, by means of a ladder straight into the Rostrellor nuptial chamber. I'll drug the old woman and his lordship, so that you can work on the safe in peace—it's a very old one, by-the-bye, and you'll have no difficulty there." He snapped his fingers together. "Then off you'll creep to my bungalow and lie low for a couple of days."

"And what are the other projects you contemplate?" asked Bascoigne.

"Oh! nothing. Mere trifles," replied Sir Charles airily, "and Dr. Libbeus and I will manage them by ourselves. The doctor thinks he has now got his type of bomb perfected, and so to begin with I'm taking a small finger—one into Burlington House to-morrow night." He nodded. "I'm a Fellow of the Royal Society, you see, and shall be attending the conversazione there in our official capacity. The bomb he's giving me is a chemical one, and explodes in three minutes upon being turned upside down. I shall put it in one of the settees." He sighed. "It won't do much harm, I fear, but it may wing one or two of the other guests and cause something of a sensation."

"Is that all you are going to do?" asked Bascoigne.

"Oh! no," replied Sir Charles, as if very surprised. "We have several other places on our list, the British Museum, the Albert Memorial, the College of Surgeons in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and—" he nodded as if he were very pleased with himself—"well, we'll see how we get on."

They talked on for some time arranging, to mollify Guildford, that Bascoigne should keep away from them all until further notice, and then rising from their chairs to terminate the meeting, a knock was heard upon the door, and Ah Chung entered.

"It is all right," he said speaking to Bascoigne.

"Both of them?" asked Bascoigne in an awed whisper.

Ah Chung inclined his head. "And there was no letter upon the other man," he added. He looked round upon the four of them. "Will you, please, all go out through Rent Street. There is a police boat upon the river, and they are watching through night glasses." His face was as solemn and inscrutable as that of the Sphinx. "It is better my shop door does not open, for I do not want a search here, tonight."

"But where have you put Blitzer and the other fellow?" asked Sir Charles curiously.

"In two sacks, under the counter," was the soft reply. "The moon will go out in an hour, and then the bodies will go out with the tide. By morning they will be far away." He spoke, almost between closed lips. "No one will grieve for them. They were bad men."

It was Guildford who was the first one to leave through the barber's shop. He said he was not feeling well and wanted to get to bed. Then five minutes later Bascoigne crept down the stairs.

"Cocaine!" nodded Sir Charles, as the sound of the retreating footsteps died away. "I always thought he did and, to-night, I noticed his pupils. He's evidently got a bit of nerves and was actually dosing himself in here. Oh! by-the-bye," he went on, "I may want you to give an anaesthetic for me in a day or two. I hope to have a most interesting operation coming on." He laughed. "Take plenty of opium that morning, for you'll want it to steady your nerves."

"What's the operation?" asked Dr. Libbeus.

"Rejuvenation!" he whispered mysteriously. "The chance of a life-time, if I can fit things in." His eyes blazed. "I want a suitable old man and I'll graft the organs of a youth on to him."

"Great Scot!" ejaculated Dr. Libbeus, "but where will you get the youth from?"

"I've got him," nodded Sir Charles triumphantly. "He's in my private hospital, getting over a simple appendisectomy. Quite healthy and all that, and I'll use him if I can." He lowered his voice again to a whisper. "Do you happen to know of any man, say from 60 to 70, who'd be willing to risk it?" He half closed his eyes. "Got any relation, you'd like to experiment upon? No! well I'm looking hard for such a man." He nodded again. "I've thought several times of Bascoigne, but he's a little bit too young, and now I've got my eye upon Ah Chung."

"Have you suggested it to either of them?" asked Dr. Libbeus suppressing a laugh, and thankful that he was on good terms with the speaker.

"No, and I should never do so," replied Sir Charles, with a cunning smile. "I should just get them up to my place and put them under. There's a hefty fellow I know, and he'd help me." He screwed up his face. "The worst of it is about these Chinamen, you can never tell how old they are and whether rejuvenation is necessary. I've asked Ah Chung casually about his age, and he didn't reply, and the other night I ran into two pretty young women that the fellow's got there, but for the life of me I couldn't guess whether they were his granddaughters or his wives."

"But what about the youth?" asked Dr. Libbeus dryly. "What does he say to it?"

"Nothing!" replied Sir Charles blandly, "for of course he's not been told." He shook his head. "But he's no good to anybody. He's well-to-do and a waster. He just golfs and plays tennis and is no use in the world."

Dr. Libbeus took out his watch. "Well, five minutes has gone now," he said, "and I'll be off. I'll be seeing you to-morrow. Good-night," and he in turn, proceeded to make his way down the stairs.

"We're a strange lot," he muttered when he was out in the street. "Sir Charles and Bascoigne are both mental, Guildford's the very worst of bad eggs, and I,"—he sighed—"live only for my opium now."


CHAPTER VII.—THE WORKERS IN THE NIGHT.

Guildford had spoken the exact truth when he had told the others that he was in a hurry to get home, but he had lied when he had said he was anxious to get to his bed, for bed was the last thing he was thinking of then. Between midnight and the early hours of the morning he was intending to make an excursion to Bascoigne's Crowborough residence, and effecting an entry somehow, open the safe that the latter had once mentioned contained half a million of Treasury Bonds, payable-to-bearer.

Upon Bascoigne's invitation he had paid one visit to The Pines and had then noted with silent appreciation that it contained not a few valuable articles of an easily negotiable nature. But it was the bonds he was after, and with the eyes of an expert who knew a good deal about safes, he had weighed up the chances of opening that one, and had considered that they were excellent.

He had taken good note, too, of the general plan of the house, and had speedily dismissed any idea of difficulty there. There were no burglar alarms that he could see, the fastenings of the windows were nothing out of the ordinary, and even the front door, he thought, would yield quickly to manipulation with a good skeleton key.

As he strode quickly along from Ah Chung's, his mind was running a lot upon Bascoigne, and he made no secret of it to himself that he was tired of all association with him, indeed, he knew quite well he would never have joined in with him at the beginning if he had not been impelled to do so through absolute fear.

Certainly, with all the fury of a smarting beast of prey, he had gloated over the thought of revenging himself upon the two men who, all those years ago, had been mainly instrumental in bringing about his downfall, but it had been really fear alone that, in the first instance, had made him join up with the conspirators. Bascoigne had found out too much about him to be a safe man to offend, but he, Guildford, had made a mental reservation at the time. That he would be quit of the whole crazy lot as soon as he could.

He was terribly, even superstitiously, afraid of Gilbert Larose, regarding him almost as the Invisible Eve, and the very thought of the ex-detective always put him in a sweat. So learning now that Larose had been visiting Scotland Yard, he had determined to shake off his associates without more ado.

That very night, he had intended, should be the last time he would go to Ah Chung's, and if he could obtain those bonds-to-bearer, as he was so confidently hoping was going to happen, then he would clear straight away to the Continent, and by devious ways get later to South America. He would just disappear, and leave every one, the three other conspirators included, to imagine what had become of him.

If he did not get the bonds, well, he would join in with them in one more throw, and with the Rostrellor jewels in his possession, clear off in just the same way. He had already a tidy bit of money put away, and, in any case, could live comfortably wherever he went.

He let himself quietly into the private house, adjoining his office, in Mile End Road. The place was in darkness, and he knew the housekeeper and the other servant would long since have gone off to bed. He looked at his watch, and then, after a muttered imprecation at the lateness of the hour his movements were like lightning.

He changed into a much-worn suit of workman's clothes, put on a pair of old rubber shoes, snatched at some gloves, and an automatic pistol from a drawer, and then closely buttoned up in a shabby overcoat, made his way stealthily into the backyard. Then for a long minute he stood in the shadow of the fence, darting his eyes round in every direction.

At length, apparently assured that there was no one watching from the windows of the adjoining houses, he disappeared into a small shed at the end of the yard.

Then, if any one had been noting his movements they would have been very surprised to see him emerge, not two minutes later, from the front door of the house in quite a different street. It was one of the small houses there, whose back-yards abutted on to the yard of the one in which he lived, for like Ah Chung, he deemed it advisable to possess more means of exit than one.

Then for half a mile or so he strode quickly along, until reaching some archways under a railway line, in a narrow street behind Mile End Road, he came upon a man who had just finished lifting some sacks on to a small lorry. He spoke a few words to the man, they both climbed on to the seat, the engine was started, and the lorry went off in the direction of the city.

The lorry looked dilapidated and old, and to a casual observer it would have seemed that its long life was almost done. The casual observer would have been quite wrong however for beneath its shabby exterior everything about the lorry was in good condition, and the man who was now driving it, known as 'Short Alf' to his associates, and one of the most expert safe-openers in the kingdom, was quite aware that if necessary he could get an easy forty-five miles an hour out of it.

In the meantime Larose and the highly intrigued Raphael Croupin were parking their car in a small quarry about half a mile from Crowborough and some three-quarters of an hour after Guildford and his assistant had left the city, were creeping over the lawn up to the big French windows of the study in Bascoigne's house. There was a faint moon showing through some misty clouds. The whole house was in complete darkness, and the entry, as Larose had anticipated, was effected without any difficulty.

"But we'll screw back the bolts straightaway," he whispered directly they were inside the room, "and then if we have to leave hurriedly there will be no traces of us left behind, and it may be just thought that some one had forgotten to bolt the windows before they went to bed."

He saw the door of the study was not closed and crept into the hall to make certain there was no one moving about.

"All O.K.," he whispered. "The place is quiet as a grave."

Croupin approached the safe and flashed his light over it. Then at once his face fell. "But this will be very difficult," he said, "for really an explosive is wanted, or a man who has spent all his life upon safes."

"Well, quick, monsieur, and see what you can do," said Larose. "We mustn't be longer than we can help," and taking some pieces of stiff wire from his pocket he began manipulating one of them in the key-hole of the first drawer.

He soon had it open and made a whispering comment to himself of its contents as he went along. "A four-ounce bottle of quinine! Ah, that commissionaire said Bascoigne was liable to bad bouts of malaria, contracted in Ceylon! Egyptian cigarettes and a very long cigarette holder! Some of his habits, I see, are just the same as they were 15 years ago. A lot of patent medicines, aspirin, phenobarbital, and by bosh! a half-ounce bottle of cocaine!" He nodded. "Much of that stuff would drive any one mad."

Then, one by one, he opened and went through the contents of all the other drawers, hoping to light upon something that would help put him upon the track of Bascoigne's associates.

But to his intense disappointment he found nothing at all of that nature, just bills and receipts and papers of no importance. However, in the last drawer he came suddenly upon a folded sheet of newspaper, and, opening it curiously, he started, and then instantly his face expanded into a broad smile. The paper he had picked up was a half sheet from one of the magazine pages of a Sunday newspaper, dated a little over a year previously, and under a big leaded line, running all across the top of the page, "Famous Trials Recalled," he read the sub-title, "The Arch-Swindler, Bascoigne Gets Seven Years."

"That clinches it," he whispered triumphantly, "without any need for finger prints. Now, I wonder if I dare take it?" He hesitated a few moments. "Yes, I'll risk it. The chances are he'll never notice it's gone," and so, refolding the paper carefully, he placed it in his pocket, and, still smiling, tip-toed over to see how Croupin was getting on.

But Croupin, from the very worried expression upon his face, had apparently been making no progress at all. With infinite patience, and with ear pressed close to the safe, he had, times without number, been turning the figures upon the dial, trying to catch the slightest variation in the sounds as the dial fell back into its place. He straightened himself up, however, as Larose approached, and shook his head. "It is quite hopeless, Monsieur," he said with a sigh. "It is beyond me, and needs the man who can hear a fly upon the wall to be able to pick up the correct figures as they pass when I turn the dial." He looked very disappointed. "They sound all alike to me."

"Well, never mind," said Larose, in no wise downhearted, "I've found out something, and we'd better scoot now. Get your things together, quick," and then almost before the words were out of his mouth, he raised his finger warningly and placed it upon his lips.

The faint, but unmistakable click of a key being turned in a lock came from somewhere close near and was followed immediately by a rush of cold air.

"Quick, quick," he breathed, "some one's opened the front door. They may hear us if we go by the window, so down behind that settee there," and followed by a shadow that was Croupin's he darted to a heavy settee that stood at the other end of the study away from the safe.

A full minute of deep silence ensued, and then they heard whispering, and the trail of a light swept under the study door.

"Mon Dieu!" groaned Croupin, "but they're coming in here," and he crouched in the corner, as immovable as the wall itself.

The door was pushed open and a light swept quickly round. Then a sturdily-built man, followed by one much shorter and of considerably lighter physique, entered the study, and after softly pushing to the door behind them, without a moment's hesitation walked over to the safe.

They were, of course, Guildford and Short Alf.

Another torch was switched on, and then for a couple of minutes or so, in perfect silence, the two lights played up and down the big steel door. Then the short man bent down and sharply swung round the revolving dial several times.

"Can you manage it, do you think?" asked Guildford anxiously.

"Sure," replied the other, confidently, spitting upon the carpet, "but it'll take a little time," and, opening a small bag that he had brought in with him, he took out several articles, and in a most precise and business-like manner, proceeded to prepare for his task.

He picked up a little head-light, which he switched on and fastened to his forehead, with a broad elastic band, a doctor's stethoscope of the latest type, and a small instrument, like a tuning fork, but rather longer, and with its two points mounted on very delicate spiral springs. Then he adjusted the stethoscope until its ear pieces were pressed firmly into his ears, and next put the solid part of the tuning-fork instrument between his teeth, resting the quivering points ever so lightly upon the safe-door, just above the dial. Then, with the bell-mouth of the stethoscope pressed firmly against the safe, he began to revolve the dial very slowly, stopping every time for a few seconds, after it had passed a figure.

About two minutes passed, and then he winked up at Guildford, who was standing over him.

"Easy as pie," he whispered. "The first number is nine." He grinned. "I expect that is the number of wives he's got! Trust these rich bachelors for doing themselves well!"

Then for about half an hour he worked in intense concentration, never taking his eyes for one second from the dial, except when he looked up and nodded to Guildford to let him know when he had caught another number.

At last, with a quick movement, he rose to his feet and took the stethoscope from his ears and the tuning fork from beneath his teeth. Then he cleared his mouth of saliva and spat twice upon the floor.

"Double nine, a nought, a seven, an eight, a six, and another nine," he answered. "They add up to 48, and I expect you'd find that the bloke's age. It's the usual trick, and nearly everyone puts in a nought." He made a casual movement with his arm. "Hop in, Boss, and open it."

"Oh! what an artist!" murmured Croupin behind the settee. "Never have I watched such a great master before!"

With a dreadful beating at his heart Guildford seized hold of the handle of the safe door and turned it round, but to his consternation it did not move a hair's-breadth.

"Here, let me do it," grinned the safe-breaker, noting with amusement his ashen face. "This isn't a kitchen cupboard, remember. That door's airtight, and wants a hard pull to overcome the suction," and, accompanying his words, he grabbed sharply at the door, and it came open at once.

In an instant, then, Guildford was upon his knees and starting to go through the contents of the safe. There was not very much in it, but he feverishly picked up packet after packet. Share certificates, leases, fire insurance policies, legal documents, a little tray of sovereigns, and a small sheaf of £5 bank notes! But no sign of any bonds-to-bearer anywhere!

"Damn him!" swore Guildford furiously. "He told us there were half a million pounds' worth of bonds-to-bearer in here." He gritted his teeth savagely. "He showed us some of them, too."

"Half a million!" ejaculated Short Alf. He looked very reproachful. "And you're paying me a miserable 50 quid!"

"Oh! but the bonds might be almost useless," exclaimed Guildford hurriedly. "I mightn't have been able to get rid of any of them."

"Well, there are some flimsies, anyhow," said Short Alf, and he made a grab for the packet of notes.

"No, you don't," said Guildford firmly, pulling him back. "He mustn't know any one's been here, for we may go to his London house, and it won't do to make him suspicious." He drew out a couple of the notes from the sheath. "Here, you can take these, for if he misses them he'll only think he's made a mistake."

"But what about his desk, boss?" asked Alf looking round. "He may have put them in there."

"No," said Guildford emphatically, "he's not likely to have done, and it'll only be waste of time. We'll——" but he started suddenly. "Hark! What was that?" and in the fraction of a second both their lights went out. "I thought I heard a click. Did you?"

"I heard something," whispered back Short Alf, "but I think it was only the door moving to. Stand still."

Then for minute after minute, they stood like statues in the darkness, with heads bent forward and with ears strained for a repetition of the sound. It was Croupin who had made it. His legs had become cramped, and in shifting his position his finger nails had struck the wainscoting behind him.

A long time passed, hours almost it seemed to the crouching two by the big settee, and then an audible sigh of relief came from Guildford, and he flashed his light again. "No, it could only have been the door," he whispered, "so come on now, quickly," and, followed by his companion, he tiptoed out of the room.

A few minutes later then, Larose heard the catch of the front door being let very softly into its place, and once again complete silence reigned.

"And that's how we'll go in a couple of minutes," he whispered, rising stiffly to his feet and rubbing his chafed limbs to bring the circulation back. "It's a pity though we couldn't have trailed them straightaway. The big fellow evidently knows Bascoigne and he is probably one of the other three. He was double-crossing Bascoigne by coming here to have a go at that safe. Still, it's hopeless to dream of following him, for they'll have come in a car, of course, and theirs may be parked in the opposite direction to ours."

"But why didn't you bail them up with your gun when you'd got them here?" asked Croupin very disappointedly. "Then we should have been certain who they are."

"No good," replied Larose sharply. "We don't want to give any of them any warning until we can connect them with the murders and lay hands upon the lot. As for these two men, just now, we'll get them in another way, for it isn't likely a chap who can open a safe like we saw this one do is unknown up at the Yard."

But then came the second interruption of that night, a sound which sent their hearts beating furiously and caused them to hold their breaths in consternation, for suddenly the telephone bell in the hall tinkled loudly, and they heard an extension bell ringing in a far part of the house.

"By the window?" whispered Croupin hoarsely, as they instantly switched off their lights.

Larose gripped him by the arm. "No, no," he whispered back, "stay where you are, for we don't know what's happening yet. The house may be surrounded outside. Those men may have been followed. Wait a moment and see."

They heard quick padding footsteps in the hall, the lights went up, and the receiver of the telephone was being lifted.

"But, oh! you did frighten me, sir," came the shaking voice of a man. "I thought some dreadful accident must have happened to you. No, there were no callers for you that afternoon. Oh! only just a man who came to know if you were wanting a sweeper. About half-past three. Yes, he looked just ordinary, sir! A commercial traveller! Yes, he was pretty well-dressed. I didn't notice what colour, sir, but I think it was grey. He said he'd call again. Oh! you mayn't be back tomorrow. Very good, sir. Yes, everything's quite all right. Oh! Pluto got away this afternoon, and it was a long while before we could catch him. He climbed almost to the top of one of the trees. No, he wasn't hurt at all, but we were more than half an hour catching him. Oh! it's quite all right, sir, but the bell frightened us, it being so late. Good-night, sir. Thank you," and the receiver was hung up.

Then they heard another voice, a woman's this time. "What was it, Bert?" it asked in very worried tones. "What did the master want?"

"Oh! nothing," replied the man sourly. "A real bit of tomfoolery, I call it, and I can't understand why he did it. Just wanted to know who called here when he was at the flower-show yesterday, and when I told him only the carpet-sweeper man, he asked what the chap was like and how he was dressed. Come on, let's go back to bed."

"Very inconsiderate, waking us up like this," grumbled his wife. "I thought at least the police had heard we were going to be broken into. No. I'm not going back to bed now until I have a cup of tea. My heart's going all of a flutter, and the tea will do me good." She shivered. "How cold it is here. It's just as if someone had just opened the front door. Are all the windows shut, do you think?"

"Of course they are," growled the man. "I shut every one before I went to bed. Come on and get that tea. I want my sleep," and the lights were clicked off and the voices of the couple became fainter as they passed up the hall.

"Now we must wait," whispered Larose, "and we can't make a move for a good half-hour. Of course it was Bascoigne speaking," he added, "and to my thinking there's something very queer about it. Why should he be ringing up at this hour?"

"Some idea has suddenly come to him," whispered back Croupin, "or he's heard something in town tonight."

"But what could he have heard?" asked Larose sharply.

"Well, why should he have suddenly become so curious," asked Croupin in return, "to learn if somebody had called here on that flower-show afternoon? Yes, something has certainly come into his mind all at once, or he wouldn't have let all yesterday go by before he rang up." He nodded in the darkness: "He's heard something, right enough."

"But what could he have heard, I say," asked Larose again.

"Monsieur," replied Croupin very solemnly, "when I was against the law in my own beautiful country I had always friends in the Surete Generale willing to tell me everything our police were doing. So why shouldn't it be the same here? This fellow is a rich man, and with money you can nearly always bribe your way anywhere."

"He's rich, all right," growled Larose. "You can tell that by the appointments here and the house he's got in town." He scoffed. "Besides, that expensive safe there was not bought to hold the paltry things they found to-night. That half million in bonds the big man spoke about is much more likely to have been kept there." He asked for the third time. "But what could he have heard?"

A long silence followed, and then Croupin asked hesitatingly. "Do you think, monsieur, that, to begin with, he recognised that little Cramm girl at the flower show and knew she came from the Gibbett Inn—I saw him stare at both her and you—and then some one telling him to-night that you were back at Scotland Yard—his guilty conscience makes him now wonder if it were you who were her companion there? Don't forget he asked the butler just now, when he heard that traveller had called, how the man was dressed, and he may have had you in mind when he asked him!"

"Damn!" swore Larose after a long moment's consideration, "but it's not possible. Your imagination is becoming more drunken even than mine."

A few minutes later they let themselves very quietly out of the front door, Croupin holding back the catch, so that it would click very softly, with a piece of specially-prepared linen thread. The thread was caught round the handle inside, and was double ended, so that when the catch was almost home it could be snatched aside and drawn right away, leaving nothing to show that any thread had been used.

They found their car unmolested, where they had left it, and reached town without any further adventure. Larose had taken lodgings in Pimlico, at the house of an ex-policeman, whom he had known when in the force, and Croupin was staying with him.

The two of them then snatched an uneasy three hours' sleep, and then Larose, very alert as usual, was ushered into the Chief Commissioner's office just as the clock was striking nine.

"Good morning, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner, but without returning the smile. Then when the door was shut behind the constable who had shown the ex-detective in, he added sharply: "Look here, my friend, you go easy with that Sheldon-Brown, for he's not the man you think. His finger-prints are not Bascoigne's and nothing like them, either."

For the moment Larose did not take in the meaning of his words. "I beg your pardon, sir," he said.

The Commissioner raised his voice a little tartly. "Those finger-prints you obtained yesterday are not those of the convict, Bascoigne," he replied. "They bear no resemblance to them at all."

A moment of intense silence followed, and then Larose, swallowing down a feeling of dire consternation, exclaimed airly, as if the matter were of no importance: "Ho! ho! they are not?" He tried to appear amused. "Well, for all that, Sheldon-Brown and Bascoigne are one and the same man."

The Commissioner, making no reply, took two small mounted photographs from a pigeon hole in the desk before him, and handed them across to Larose, who just glanced at them quickly.

"A mistake," he said calmly, "or else—" his voice hardened—"this one of Bascoigne has been deliberately changed."

The Commissioner looked very stern. "Our finger-print department does not make mistakes, Mr. Larose," he said icily, "as no one should know better than yourself. As for any deliberate alteration of the cards"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, we won't discuss it." He waved to a chair. "Sit down will you."

Larose did as he was bid, and keeping a good hold upon himself, smiled cheerfully again. "Well, sir," he said, "if this Sheldon-Brown is not Bascoigne the convict, we are up against a series of coincidences, whose cumulative effect would drive any mathematician into an asylum. Just listen to me for a moment." He spoke very quickly. "Yesterday morning, I spent some time with a man who was this Bascoigne's body servant twenty years ago, and I dug out of him all Bascoigne's then-habits in private life, his tastes in food, his mode of dress, his preference in colours, his ailments, and in short, everything I could learn about him." He coughed ever so slightly. "Then last night, I effected an entrance into Sheldon-Brown's residence in Crowborough and——"

"Effected an entrance!" interrupted the Commissioner, frowning. "You broke in!"

"Not exactly," smiled Larose. "I just undid the bolt of a window." He spoke very quickly. "It was Sheldon-Brown's study I went into, and the first thing I noticed was that the chairs and settee were upholstered in blue leather, and the carpet was blue and the curtains were blue, also the shades over the lights." He nodded. "Blue was Bascoigne's favourite colour." He went on. "Then I opened the desk and in the front drawer saw a long ivory cigarette holder—Bascoigne always used a long one—some cigarette papers, and a tin of Egyptian tobacco—Bascoigne always used Egyptian tobacco, and made his own cigarettes. Then I saw a gold mounted fountain pen with a broad, thick nib—Bascoigne always used thick nibs."

He paused for a few moments to give the Commissioner an opportunity to make some remark, but the latter was looking meditatively down upon his blotting pad and drawing circle after circle with a blue pencil, and so Larose went on.

"Then I came upon a 4oz bottle of sulphate of quinine, with some of its contents gone." He paused again here, and then added very solemnly, "Bascoigne suffered from bouts of malaria, and was periodically taking sulphate of quinine. You will find that also, no doubt, in the prison records. Finally"—and his voice rose to a note of triumph—"I found this in one of the drawers," and he whipped out the sheet of newspaper. "Famous Trials Recalled," and laid it before the Commissioner, upon his desk.

The Commissioner put down his pencil, and, with a deep frown, picked up the paper and began to glance through it.

"Notice, too," said Larose, "the words in it that have been scored under—and so scored many a month ago, for the ink is faded, the words, 'neither Mortimer Fairfax nor Sir John Lorraine, either, for the matter of that, gave him any mercy.'" He spoke very quietly now. "What do you think of it, sir?"

A short silence followed, and then the Commissioner looked up and regarded him very solemnly.

"You disturb me," he said frowningly. He shook his head. "It is unthinkable there can be a mistake about these finger prints, and yet"—he spoke very slowly—"I admit it is very strange if all these parallels can exist in two different men."

"Just think of it, sir," urged Larose, "the bouts of malaria, the same tastes and peculiarities of their habits, the same engaging personality, the same commanding presence, and the same bold and fearless imagination!" He laughed. "Oh! And another thing! They both are great fish eaters. Bascoigne almost lived upon fish and the 'phone girl at Crowborough said Sheldon-Brown rings up the fishmonger every day."

The Commissioner sighed. "I'll have another inquiry made," he said, "to see who filed Bascoigne's finger prints and all about them."

Larose seemed quite satisfied. "And has the telephone been used, sir, at Sheldon-Brown's in Charles Street? Have you any news there?"

The Commissioner picked up a paper. "We could not get in touch with him at all yesterday, for he did lot come home until half-past 12 this morning. Then at 2.22 a.m. he put through a call to his residence at Crowborough, and it was undoubtedly his butler who answered it." He passed over the paper to Larose. "Of no interest, apparently, but here is the report of the conversation."

Larose frowned uneasily as he ran through the conversation, for he was not thinking it was of no interest. To him it was of a very disturbing nature.

"And that is all, sir?" he asked, after a minute.

"No," replied the Commissioner, now frowning, in his turn, "for at 7.46 this morning he was rung up from a call office in Belsize Avenue, Hampstead, and some one talked to him for about two minutes."

"What did they say?" asked Larose eagerly.

"We do not know," replied the Commissioner with a grim smile, "for the conversation was carried on in German, and the girl at the exchange who was ready to take down everything in shorthand is not conversant with that language."

For the moment Larose looked very crestfallen, and then he snapped his fingers together exultingly. "Another link in the chain, sir, for Bascoigne spent many holidays in Germany. His old valet told me that year after year he went shooting in the Black Forest, so he undoubtedly speaks German." He shook his head. "But that conversation this Mr. Sheldon-Brown held with his butler is very disquieting, for I was the supposed commercial traveller who called that afternoon, and Mr. B. is evidently beginning to smell a rat somewhere," and then he related everything that had taken place that night when he and Croupin had been at Crowborough.

The Commissioner listened intently, and his face brightened up considerably towards the end of the recital. "Well, we'll take extreme care," he nodded, "that this man, whoever he is, does not learn he's being shadowed, even to the extent, as you suggest, of letting him get out of our sight, rather than that he should become positive he is under suspicion." He talked on for a few minutes and then touched the bell upon his desk. "And now you shall have that talk with the officer you want. I needn't remind you that Detective-Inspector Quinell should know something about every safe opener of good repute, or ill, in the kingdom."

Larose was quickly ushered into the inspector's room, and after shaking hands, and a few remarks about old times, he came at once to the point.

"Forgive me for not being in a position to explain everything," he said with a most friendly smile, "but for the moment the whole problem is very vague, and I can't put all my cards upon the table yet. What I want to find out is if you know of any man in the safe-breaking line who answers to this description," and he at once proceeded to describe the small man whom he had seen open the safe the previous night.

"And he kept spitting, did he?" asked the inspector. He smiled. "Well, that clinches it, for Alf Flick is an inveterate chewer of tobacco. 'Short Alf' they call him, and he's a perfect wonder in dealing with strong-doors and safes. No, we've never brought anything home to him, although we've suspected him not a few times. But he's always had a water-tight alibi whenever we've questioned him. Either his wife swears he has never got out of his bed, or his grandmother has never had him out of her sight, or innumerable uncles and aunts declare he has been with them the whole time, and always he's been too clever for us."

"What's the occupation of this Alf Flick?" asked Larose.

"He's a locksmith by trade," was the reply, "and the banks and safe-deposit people employ him a lot when anything goes wrong, for he's a marvel at his work."

"Where does he live?" asked Larose.

"In Rooper Street, off the Mile End Road," replied the inspector, "and I'll come with you straight away, if you want to talk to him." He nodded. "He's a bit frightened of me."

"No, no," exclaimed Larose quickly. "I'll go alone, please, for I've got to handle him very gently. It's like this," he went on, noticing the disappointed look upon the inspector's face. "I don't want this man for safe-breaking, for I'm after much bigger game than that. All I want is to talk to him, and no one must know he's been approached by any one connected with the police."

He bade good-bye to the inspector, and made his way quickly to his lodgings, where he found Croupin waiting for him.

"Yes, you'll do," he said, critically regarding the shabby-looking figure before him. "You even look more disreputable and down-and-out than you need have done. Where did you get the clothes from?"

"Our landlord," replied the Frenchman, eyeing his attire disgustedly, "and I believe he found them in some field where they were scaring birds."

"Well, off you go," said Larose, "and here's the list of foreign barbers. It's a long one, but I think there are 11 you had better go and look at first. Seven Germans and four Swiss, and all not far from the Docks. Now, are you sure you can find your way about?"

"Yes," replied Croupin, as he glanced down upon the list. He sighed. "I tell you, I was in hiding in London once, and lived in Shoreditch for over three months."

"Good luck to you, then," said Larose. "But I'm afraid you've got a very hopeless job, with not one chance in a thousand of picking out the particular barber we want."

"Oh! I don't know so much about that," commented Croupin very mysteriously, and tossing his head. "I've just been giving these nice clothes a walk round to buy a pennyworth of cat's meat for our landlady's cat." He grinned impudently into Larose's face. "You are not the only one, Meester Larose, who can think of things, and I've thought of a very good idea. Good-bye. Expect me when you see me."

He left the house by the back door, and certainly no one would have recognised the lively and debonair Raphael de Choisy-Hautville, in the ill-clad and melancholy individual who was now slouching along as if the mother of all misfortunes had overtaken him.

In the meantime, Larose was making quick changes in his own appearance, and a few minutes later, with his eyebrows straightened, a little scrubby moustache and certain deft touches that altered the whole contour of his face, he left the house and followed along the same direction that Croupin had taken. He was dressed now in very ordinary clothes, and wore a cloth cap that had evidently seen good service.

He took the Underground Railway at Westminster, and alighting at Aldgate East soon found Rooper Street and the shop of Alfred Flick. It was a very small one, and looking through the dusty window, he saw the locksmith himself at work upon the bench. Close near him and seated on the counter was a little fair-haired child about three, nursing a doll, whilst in a chair behind sat a rosy-cheeked young woman, barely out of her teens, with some needle-work in her lap. She was sewing industriously.

Larose felt his heart beating a little quicker. "That's the chap," he murmured, "and things should be very easy now." He grimaced to himself. "A happy little domestic scene, and it's a darn shame to have to spoil it. Still—still—we'll see what Alf. will do."

He pushed open the shop door and entered, and then immediately the girl, gathering her needlework together, rose hurriedly and disappeared through an inner door. The locksmith lifted the child down off the counter. "Run away, nipper," he said. "Daddy's busy now. Go to Mum."

Larose took in the locksmith with one glance. He looked a merry-hearted fellow of a lively disposition, and appeared to be about 35 years of age.

"Mr. Flick?" asked Larose, and when the man replied, "Yes, sir," he lowered his voice, and glancing in the direction of the inner door, which was ajar, and added sternly, "Well, I want to speak to you."

The man's jaw dropped ever so little at the sternness of the tones, but taking the hint he immediately stepped over and shut the door. Then he returned to the counter, eyeing Larose very intently.

"I know where you were last night, Mr. Flick," said Larose, very slowly, and with no raising of his voice.

The man's face whitened, but he put on a bold front. "And so do I," he said sharply. "In bed where I suppose you were."

"I saw you open that safe," went on Larose, in the same low tone, "and the numbers of the combination were nine, nine, nought, seven, eight, six, nine. I was in the same room, behind that settee the whole time."

The man's face had gone an ashen grey, and he could hardly get his breath. "Who are you?" he gasped.

"From the Yard," replied Larose, and he took out his badge and showed it to him.

The man crumpled up. "You've come to take me," he faltered brokenly, and then, jerking his head in the direction of the inner door, the tears welled up in his eyes. "My God! And the missus in there is expecting another baby in six weeks."

"Shut up. Keep quiet, you fool," snarled Larose. "I don't say I've come to arrest you. It all depends upon yourself, and what you tell me. It's that other man I'm after, not you."

Alf Flick drew in a deep breath. "What do you want to know?" he asked shakily.

"The first thing," snapped Larose, "who was that chap with you? What's his name?"

The man hesitated, looking the picture of distress, and Larose, his face dark with anger, raised one forefinger menacingly. "Look here, you fool," he breathed, in an intense whisper. "It's all or nothing with you, and you've got to decide in five seconds. Either you tell everything, or"—he nodded again in the direction of the inner door—"you'll be in the cells in twenty minutes." He smiled disdainfully. "Remember that click you heard? Well, what about my camera with both of you snapped red-handed before that safe?"

The man wilted as if he had been struck. "I'll tell, Boss," he panted. "You shall know everything, and then perhaps"—he caught his breath—"you'll wait until the missus is over her trouble."

Instantly Larose was all sympathy. "I'll wait longer than that," he said quickly, "and, indeed, perhaps you may never hear any more of it at all." He nodded. "You're a small fish, Alf, and I tell you it's that other chap I want. Now who is he?"

"Mason, the estate agent," replied the locksmith, looking so relieved now that he was with difficulty withholding his tears. "He lives close near here, in Mile End Road."

"An estate agent," exclaimed Larose. "Is that all he is?" and then intending to remove all regret that the locksmith might have in betraying his employer, he went on scornfully, "and he was only paying you £50 to get him half a million in bonds! Why——"

"He had told me nothing, about the bonds, Boss," broke in the man quickly. "He just said he wanted to get hold of some papers that had been stolen from him, and he was sure that swell had taken them."

"And you know the man he was robbing?" asked Larose.

"No, I don't," replied the man earnestly. "I don't know him, or who he is or even where he lives. Mr. Mason just pointed out which way to drive the car we went down in, and then after we'd passed through Croydon I lost all direction." He nodded. "Mason is a close chap and never tells anything."

"But Mason knows the man, doesn't he?" asked Larose.

"Yes, he knows him," replied Alf, "and he said he was a rich bachelor, living by himself. He'd spent one Sunday at the house there, and knew all about it, and that there were no children or dogs hanging about. He let out by chance that while my pay was to be only £50, he'd been expecting to get half a million!"

"And he's only an estate agent, you say?" asked Larose.

"But he owns a bit of house property himself, as well," replied the man, "and puts up hoardings for advertisements and collects rents for people. He does a lot of things and has to keep four or five clerks to help him." A cunning look came into his face and he nodded mysteriously. "Besides it's reckoned he makes a good few quid in other ways."

"What ways?" asked Larose.

The man hesitated. "Well, for one thing, he knows a lot of chaps who live on what they can get, and when they're in trouble he provides them with lawyers and tells them what to do." He nodded again. "There's nothing about the law that he doesn't know, and these chaps often get off. Then when they find anything and get away with it,"—he lowered his voice to the merest whisper—"he's supposed to buy it from them."

"When they pinch anything, you mean?" frowned Larose.

"Yes," was the reply, "when they've pinched some stuff and haven't got caught."

"And how long's this Mason been living here?" was the next question.

"Oh! a long time, I think. Eight or nine years."

"Have you done any jobs for him before?"

The man was most emphatic. "No, I never met him until last week when he came in here and spoke to me. I'd heard a lot about him, though."

Then Larose plied him with question upon question, often repeating them in different ways, until he was quite certain in the end that the man was speaking the truth.

"Well, Alf," he said at last. "It's a darned shame you should have been up to games like this when you've got a young wife and kiddies to look after." He bent forward until his face was close up to that of the man. "You say you had no money saved and it was only because you were in a bad way, that you agreed to work for Mason." He spoke very slowly. "Now what do you think then would become of your young missus, if you were put away for seven years, and she hadn't a penny and there was no one by to protect her?" He smiled cruelly. "She's a pretty girl, isn't she?"

The locksmith winced and his eyes took on the look of a wounded animal. "But I'll go straight, now, I promise, Boss," he said hoarsely, "if you only give me the chance. I tell you there's another kid coming, and I wanted that money so that the wife could have a better time. I thought——"

"Has he paid you the £50 yet?" broke in Larose sharply.

"Yes," replied the man, "he gave it to me as we were driving home."

"Then you're all right for money now," said Larose, "and you'll have no worry there. So that's settled." He spoke in quite a friendly tone. "And if you keep straight in future, Alf, and do as I tell you, you need have no worry either about what happened last night. Now you shall hear what I want you to do."


CHAPTER VIII.—"THE TERROR BY DAY."

When Larose returned to his lodgings about eight o'clock that night Croupin had not yet come home, and there was no sign of him when Larose at last put himself to bed.

If the course of the evening, however, it was reported to Ah Chung that a slightly drunken Frenchman had come to the lodging house next door. The Frenchman said he was a chef out of work, but from the skill with which he performed certain sleight-of-hand tricks for the amusement of the other lodgers, it was surmised he was a pickpocket.

"Give him more drink and search him," said Ah Chung. "If you find anything on him, don't take it, but encourage him to come again. Search well, for he may have been sent by the police. A pickpocket should be earning more money than to have to come down here."

The following afternoon about three o'clock, at the usual slack period of the day, Voisin, the barber of Rent Street, was seated at the back of the shop reading a newspaper.

Bullet-headed, and of decided Teutonic ancestry, he was a hard-faced, stolid-looking man. He had shaggy eyebrows, big searching eyes, a square jaw, and a large coarse mouth with full lips.

He was reading with his eyes fixed most intently upon the paper and he was breathing hard. It was the midday edition of the Daily Cry, and its contents were sensational enough to have aroused feelings of excitement in anybody.

It was the leading article that was so enthralling him, and it was referring to an explosion in the Reading Room of the British Museum the previous afternoon, when three men had been seriously injured, and to one that had also occurred the same night at a conversazione of the Royal Society, but happily there, by a mere chance, attended by no casualties.

Now, it had a duty to the public to perform, it told its readers, and it was not going to be muzzled and it was not going to be hushed up. The public ought to be made aware of what was happening, and it was no good blinking facts.

Yes, a band of madmen, for there must surely be more than one of them, had, three weeks ago, on the 25th of July to be exact, started upon a campaign of murder and outrage, and they had got away with it, too, every time.

The public had, of course, read, it went on, that the one-time eminent judge, Sir John Lorraine, of Merton Court, Eastbourne, had been mysteriously murdered just outside his own grounds on July 25th. They had read, too, that the venerable Archdeacon Lendon had been murdered, just as mysteriously at Surbiton on August 8, and that some unknown person had shot Lord Burkington, the eminent surgeon, at Harrogate, on August 25th. Then, if their memories were good, they would recall the names of three other persons who had been killed in the ensuing three weeks, with the killers all undiscovered.

Six murders in seven weeks and no one had been apprehended for them! Just—a terrible crime committed, an empanelling of a coroner's jury, and a subsequent verdict, monotonous in its repetition—"Murder by some person or persons unknown."

Yes, the public had heard all about these murders, but drugged, apparently, into an unthinking frame of mind by the interest of other events that had been taking place—the Test matches against the Australians, the Davis Cup tennis at Wimbledon, the breaking of the unpaced bicycle record between Land's End and John of Groats, and the poisoning of the favourite for the Manchester November Handicap, &c.—they had apparently taken little notice of them, and certainly altogether failed to realise that they might be crimes of a series and carried out upon a definite and carefully thought-out plan.

But putting aside all consideration of these half-dozen dreadful, undiscovered and unpunished crimes, had it never dawned upon people that in their insane deification of sport they had been overlooking so many happenings that were now occurring daily in their very midst?

Had they not noticed how the main public buildings were being guarded now, and how quiet and unobtrusive, but very grim-faced men stopped every one who was carrying a parcel, and attempted to go in? Had it never struck them why the Houses of Parliament had not been opened during the recess this year for sight-seers, and how the public inspection of certain historic castles had been denied 'until further notice?'

"Does no one wonder," it continued, warming up to its work, "why the——" but the barber stopped reading here, and with his eyes staring fixedly into vacancy, harrowed his mind mercilessly in an endeavour to exactly remember certain dates. Presently his eyes dropped again and fell upon a paragraph lower down.

"Let the truth be told," he read, "and let the public learn from what dangers they have escaped, and take warning, too, what dangers may yet be before them. It is dreadful for us to record, but it is an open secret in Fleet Street and wherever newspaper men forgather, that bombs have recently been left in both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, and—more awful still—attempts have been made to poison certain reservoirs in the metropolitan area with arsenic!"

The barber started here and with his eyes almost bulging from his head, read on the next few paragraphs, in such a state of mental turmoil that he did not grasp their meaning. Then his benumbed brain began to function again, and he took in, "—somewhere conspirators are meeting to hatch their dreadful plots; somewhere in some foul den, night after night, inhuman monsters gather and—"

"Mon Dieu," he gasped, his heart beating wildly, "but it is they! They are the four that meet here at Chung's! They are——" but his train of thought was interrupted suddenly by the clanging of the shop-door bell, and he started up, to see a shabby-looking stranger enter the shop.

The man shut the door behind him very carefully, and then, cap in hand, advanced in a most obsequious manner.

"Monsieur," he said with a grand bow, and speaking in broken English, "I have ze good rasor to sell."

"No," replied the barber in his harsh and guttural accent, annoyed at being disturbed, "I do not want them. I do not want any razors."

The stranger started, and throwing out his hands delightedly proceeded at once to address the barber volubly in most fluent French. "Then, you come from France and you are the Monsieur Voisin whose name I see over the door!" he exclaimed. "Oh! I am so happy, for it is like a breeze from the open sea to meet one from my beloved country."

"I am not French," growled the barber in the same tongue, "I am a Swiss."

"But it is the same," went on the stranger excitedly. "You speak my tongue and you are not of this awful country. We are then brothers in exile." He took a small parcel from the inside pocket of his coat, and began to unwrap it. "Now, I have here some——"

"I don't want them, I tell you," reiterated the barber with some irritation, and by no means responding to the friendliness of his visitor. "I have plenty of razors and shan't buy any more."

"But these are special ones," said the man, taking no notice at all of the barber's refusal. "They are the razors of emperors and kings, and they are worth 500 francs the three. You cannot anywhere buy better than these."

"Get out, you," snarled the barber, "and clear off quick, or I'll—" but his eyes fell suddenly upon the razors that had at last been unwrapped, and he stopped in sheer astonishment.

They were not the kind of razors he had been expecting to see; cheap, shoddy ones that were so often brought to him by seedy-looking individuals, trying to make a few pence by hawking from door to door. At a glance, he realised they were of a most expensive kind, in handles of real ivory and, as the man had said, the best that could be bought.

His curiosity overcame his annoyance at the persistence of the would-be vendor. "Where did you get them from?" he growled, taking one in his hands and proceeding to examine the blade.

The man hesitated just the fraction of a second. "I found them," he said, "——in a rubbish tip." He went on quickly. "That's how I live, and this morning I was raking in one behind some hoardings near Poplar Station, and I found them, wrapped up in this," and he held up for inspection the black piece of cloth from which he had taken them. He watched the barber like a cat watching a mouse. "I only want ten shillings for them, ten shillings for the three."

The barber looked up and eyed him with a fixed and intent stare. "They are stolen," he said curtly. "You have been breaking in somewhere."

"No, no!" exclaimed the man instantly. "I found them I tell you, and they belong to me." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "No one knows I have got them and you are the first one I have shown them to. I was looking for some one who could speak French, so that I could explain, and when I noticed your name I came in here." He changed into a wheedling tone. "Help a poor Frenchman, Monsieur. See, you shall have them for eight shillings."

"What are you and where do you live?" asked the barber, in whom desire to possess the razors and fear of getting into trouble with the police were struggling for the mastery.

"I am a chef, Monsieur," replied the man with dignity, "but I am out of work and can get nothing to do." He laughed bitterly. "As to where I live, I live anywhere. Sometimes, I have no money and then I sleep in the parks." An unpleasant memory seemed to stir in him and he frowned angrily. "Last night, I slept close near here, in a lodging house kept by a Chinaman on the Causeway, but they gave me rum to drink, and for a joke put something it, and this morning I had a bad mouth and a terrible headache." He grinned feebly. "But they could not have wanted to rob me, for I had only sixpence, and I found it in my pocket when I woke up." He nodded. "Still, I shall not go there again."

"I'll give you five shillings for them," grunted the barber, making up his mind at last.

"No—eight, Monsieur," pleaded the man. "Give me eight shillings. They are worth three pounds."

"Six shillings," said the barber, firmly. "I'll give you no more than that, and if you do not like it, you can go."

The Frenchman looked furious, and stood hesitating, then, as the barber held out the razor for him to take back, he made a gesture of resignation, and forced his face into a smile.

"Bien, Monsieur," he said sadly. "I will take it, for I want money, but it is throwing them away."

The barber showed no satisfaction at the closing of the deal, but pointing to a wooden bench against the wall, said curtly.

"Well, you wait there until I get the money, and don't move about the shop." Then, retreating into the inner room, but, leaving the door wide open so that he could keep an eye upon his visitor, he busied himself for a couple of minutes or so with a pen and a piece of paper.

"Here," he said, returning into the shop, and motioning the Frenchman over to the counter, "sign this and I'll give you the money."

The very astonished Frenchman glanced down and read what he had written. "Received from Nicol Voisin the sum of thirty shillings for three razors that were given me by my late master, Monsieur le Brun."

"Le diable!" he exclaimed, "but you said you would only give me six!"

"And that is all I am going to give," remarked the barber grinning, "but you will sign this"—he nodded—"in case the police come and say I must have known the razors were stolen, because you sold them for six shillings."

For the moment the Frenchman seemed stunned, and then he burst into a merry peal of laughter. "But you are clever, Monsieur Voisin," he said, "very clever. Still, I will sign, because it is quite safe and the police will never come. As I say, I have shown them to no one but you," and he took the pen that the barber was holding out, and with a grand flourish wrote the name, 'Alexandre Nation,' adding with a grim smile, 'with best thanks.'

The barber, now for the first time, allowed his features to relax. "And you would like something to drink?" he asked slowly, and as if some idea were forming in his mind.

"Not rum!" exclaimed the Frenchman, at once beginning to look very suspicious.

"No, good wine," replied Voisin. "I have some here."

And so, a couple of minutes later, the two were drinking in quite a friendly fashion in the inner room.

"And where were you working, Monsieur Nation?" asked Voisin presently, "before you lost your job?"

"Here in London," replied the Frenchman promptly, "at the Semiris Hotel. I was under-chef there, and should have been full chef soon, if my enemies had not conspired against me."

"So, so," said Voisin sympathetically, "you made enemies, did you?"

"Yes, and they brought false accusations against me," went on Nation, speaking with an assumption of great wrong. "Some jewellery was taken out of one of the visitor's rooms, and they said I had done it."

"And, of course, you hadn't!" smiled Voisin.

The Frenchman smiled back. "Of course not," he replied. "But they said I had made a master key and could get into all the rooms." He nodded scornfully. "At any rate they could prove nothing, although they sent me away."

They chatted on about Geneva and Paris, from where they respectively came and the barber seemed very interested about the police system of the latter city, asking many questions to which the obliging Monsieur Nation was able to give full replies.

Then suddenly the bell of the shop tinkled and to the annoyance, so it seemed, of the barber three customers came in all together at the same time.

"But I will come and see you again, perhaps," nodded the Frenchman in bidding good-bye, and then his voice sank to the deepest of whispers as he added significantly, "I often have things that I do not know where to sell, and much better than razors some times."

The barber was very preoccupied all the remainder of that day, and twice had to apologise most profusely for the cutting of a customer's chin. Then the moment the day's work was finished, he put the copy of the Daily Cry into his pocket and made his way round through the street to Ah Chung's.

"Have you seen this?" he whispered breathlessly, pointing to the leading article that had so startled him. "I believe it is the men who meet here and they have nothing to do with ammunition as they say."

"But I have seen the boxes of cartridges," lied Ah Chung blandly, after one quick glance down at the paper. "They are stored in a warehouse in Tooley Street, and I am arranging for their shipment."

"Oh!" exclaimed Voisin looking very crest-fallen. "I thought we could have made some more money by telling them we knew." His face cleared and he produced the three razors he had bought from the Frenchman and the receipt he had obtained from him, as well. "See," he went on, "a man came into my shop this afternoon and I bought these razors. I wished I hadn't afterwards, for my customers are not the sort to buy them. Will you take them? I paid ten shillings each. Here is the receipt."

The Chinaman examined the razors critically. "They were stolen," he said, "and you were wise to get a receipt. They are worth more than ten shillings." He considered. "They would be difficult for me to sell, too, but I will give you one pound for the three," and the barber, knowing quite well it would be useless to argue with Ah Chung, accepted the offer, grinning covertly to himself, however, as he pocketed the treasury note.

In the meantime, Larose, returning to his lodgings in Pimlico about 6 o'clock, found Croupin waiting for him. The latter had discarded his out-of-work garments and was now attired in his proper clothes.

"And where are you off to?" asked Larose sharply. "You are supposed to be helping me, but certainly, not in that get-up."

"Patience, patience! Meester Larose," exclaimed Croupin, all smiles. "I have earned a good dinner, and have been starved for two days." He screwed up his face inquiringly. "But tell me first, have you found out anything?"

Larose nodded. "Yes, quite a lot," he replied, looking very pleased with himself, "for the Yard were able to put their fingers at once upon the man who opened that safe, and I frightened him into telling all about the other one who had been with him," and he proceeded to relate very quickly all that had happened.

"Then you have actually recognised the big man, in this estate agent of Mile End Road?" asked Croupin gleefully.

"Oh! Yes," replied Larose at once, "there is no doubt about it. I have been in his office twice to-day, as a prospective tenant of one of his houses. I have not actually spoken to him, for one of the clerks has attended to me both times but I have had a good close-up view and heard him talking, too." He nodded. "He looks a determined and capable man to me, and very clever—much too clever to be pottering about in the East End. Of course, he is being shadowed closely now, but up to this evening he has not left his house. We'll trip him soon, though, and another thing—we must get hold of his finger-prints, for he looks a man with a past to me." He looked intently at Croupin. "But now, have you any news?"

Croupin grinned. "Nothing much," he replied shaking his head carelessly, "except that I have marked down a German-Swiss barber who is a great scoundrel, who smokes cigarettes of black tobacco, and who lives near some Chinaman who comes from Hankow." He nodded significantly. "Yes, and one of these Chinamen keeps an evil-smelling live-animal shop, almost at the very back of this barber's house."

Larose made no attempt to hide his astonishment. "What!" he exclaimed with widely-opened eyes. "You've found him already? How on earth did you manage it?"

Croupin laughed. "It was the smell, Monsieur," he explained, with his eyes sparkling, "and I was like a blood-hound on the trail!" He explained quickly. "It happened in this way. When I put on those dreadful clothes you ordered for me, our landlady here was all amusement at my appearance. 'Never mind, sir,' she said. 'You do not look as bad as my cats-meat man, for he looks really terrible.'" He made a gesture of disgust. "But I doubted her. So, as she wanted some meat for her cat, I went to the man's shop to see. It is only two streets from here, and he keeps cats and dogs for sale, and other animals, and there was a dreadful smell. I asked him if trade was good, and he looked angry at once, because he told me the foreigners were spoiling everything. 'The dam Chinks by the docks,' he said. 'They get all the goods things from the sailor-men as they come off the ships and can sell cheaper than me.'"

Croupin paused for a few moments, as if to tantalise Larose, and then snapping his fingers together exultingly, went on. "So the great idea came to me, the evil smell of caged animals for sale and the Chinaman by the docks! What more could I want?"

"Splendid, Monsieur," exclaimed Larose enthusiastically. "It was a real brain-wave!"

"So I tramped round the docksides," continued Croupin, "with my eyes skinned for Chinamen who sold animals, and a barber with a Swiss or German name over his shop, and I soon found them close together, a barber called Voisin, and an animal shop on Limehouse Causeway. The barber lives in a low quarter in Rent Street, and behind his house are three other houses, facing the river, all kept by Chinamen. One is the animal place, the next is a shop that sells ropes and lamps for ships, and the third is a lodging house."

He paused again here to sigh deeply, and then related how troubled he had been to make up his mind what to do next.

He had realised that to make any progress in his investigations he must get in touch with the Chinaman somehow, but he did not forget also, that if the Chinamen were what they supposed them to be, and in league with murderers, then it would be a very risky proceeding to place himself in their hands. He had hesitated a long while, but had finally resolved to spend a night in the lodging-house, and knowing something of the nature of these places, and how it was quite likely he would be searched when he was asleep, he had had to arrange that he should be carrying nothing upon him that would excite any suspicion. So he had wrapped his watch and nearly all the money he had about him, some £9 odd, in treasury notes and silver, in a piece of newspaper, keeping out only two shillings and a few coppers. Then he had bought a penny piece of chewing gum and entering an old ivy-covered church off the East India Dock Road—it was just five o'clock and evensong was being sung—he had knelt down in a pew at the back and stuck his little packet of money on to the underneath part of the seat with the now well-chewed gum.

"And it was so sad, Meester Larose!" he said, and as if even now almost choking with the memory. "There was the beautiful music, with the organ notes so sweet they might have come from heaven, there was the light so dim and holy; there was the incense as an opiate for the sick and weary brain; and I—was worrying that my piece of gum might fall off the bottom of the pew, and thinking all the time of that smell in the animal shop, and whether I should get a knife stuck into me before the morning came, I tell you I was——"

"Get on, Monsieur," interrupted Larose testily. "Tell me what happened. Never mind these thoughts of yours."

Croupin looked reproachful, but then quickly related how he had had some brandy to make him smell of drink, how then he had paid sixpence for his mattress in the lodging house, and sixpence for his supper, and how to dispel all suspicion that he was anything but what he was making himself out to be, he had pretended to be partly drunk.

The supper had been a nauseous one, but he had eaten it and then to ingratiate himself with the other lodgers, of whom he had been asking guarded questions, he had proceeded to amuse them with some sleight-of-hand tricks. Then the old Chinaman who kept the lodging house, as a gesture of great goodwill, had brought him a glass of rum, and he had not dared to refuse it, because pretending to be in liquor already, it might have made the man suspicious at once.

Then he knew almost at once that he had been drugged, for he could not keep his eyes open, and very soon he remembered nothing more. He woke up in the morning with a bad headache, but he was very thankful to find he had wakened at all.

"Then as I stumbled out into the street, Monsieur," he said, "so thankful for the cold morning air, I passed the shop where they sell the ropes and candles for the ships, and I saw another Chinaman standing at the door. He did not turn his head as I came up, but his eyes moved on a swivel and met mine, and they were cruel as Satan's." He threw out his hands. "Never have I seen such a pitiless face—and I could feel that he was watching me, too! He was undoubtedly the proprietor of the shop and the name over the door was Ah Chung."

Then Croupin related how he had retrieved his money from the church, and then with what disfavour and suspicious glances he had been regarded, when in his soiled and shabby clothes, he had gone into a high-class cutlery shop in the West End, and announced that he wanted to buy some of the best razors that they had.

"They looked and looked," he laughed merrily, "and came and stared as if they thought I was going to steal the door-mat or run off with the counter, until in the end I had to tell them I had won a big prize in the Irish Sweep. Then they were all smiles, and called the manager, and he wanted to sell me lots of other things. It was a great joke and I——"

"Get on," broke in Larose. "What did you want razors for?"

Croupin smiled tantalisingly, but then becoming painfully aware that he was very hungry, he finished the recital of all else that had happened to him as expeditiously as he could.

"Now, Meester Larose," he exclaimed triumphantly, "I shall cultivate that Monsieur Voisin and it will be easy. He drinks like a fish, for there were many bottles in the cupboard in his room, and to-morrow I will go in and sell him something more."

"No, no," said Larose. "I have a better plan than that." He patted him approvingly upon the shoulder. "You have done splendidly Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, and I am proud to be working with you,"—he raised his hand warningly—"but we must do some team-work now. You just listen to me."

He considered for a few moments, and then nodded confidently. "Now I will not for one moment entertain the thought that the mistake about those finger-prints of Bascoigne's is at my end. We shall probably learn what has happened soon, but I am as certain as I have ever been of anything in my life that Sheldon-Brown is Bascoigne and that Bascoigne is Sheldon-Brown."

He ticked off the points on his fingers. "Well, we have undoubtedly linked up Sheldon-Brown with the murders, and we have now linked up the estate agent with Sheldon-Brown. Mason knows this Brown to some considerable point of intimacy, because we heard him tell Alf. Flick that Brown had upon some occasion shown him, Mason, some of those absent bonds-to-bearer, and he would certainly not have done that to anyone he was only acquainted with in a casual way."

He thought for a moment and then went on. "Now, you by a splendid piece of work, bring this barber and the Chinaman from Hankow into the picture, but for the moment there is——"

"No connection between them and the other two," broke in Croupin impatiently. "I know that, Monsieur"—he looked very woe-begone—"but for the love of heaven, do not expect me to think and reason upon an empty stomach. Come out for a meal now, and we'll talk it over then."

Larose sighed. "All right, de Choisy-Hautville," he replied. "You are carnal-minded, but I could do with a peck, too."

The following afternoon at about the same time that he had visited the barber the previous day, the Frenchman pushed open the door of the shop and flung himself breathlessly into the operating chair.

"Quick, start lathering me, Monsieur," he called out to the astonished barber, who was in the act of sharpening a razor. "I will explain in a minute, but put on the lather, please, quick."

For a few seconds the barber stared at him open-mouthed, but then picking up a shaving brush and starting to comply with the request, he was interrupted by the sharp clicking of the shop door, and a big burly-looking man entered quickly.

"Know this fellow?" he asked, addressing the barber with no ceremony, and jerking his thumb in the direction of the hard-breathing Croupin.

Voisin felt an uncomfortable choking in his threat, for everything about the newcomer spoke of 'plain-clothes man' from some police station, but he put on a stolid look and pretended to be rather deaf.

"What do you say?" he asked gruffly.

"Do you know the fellow?" repeated the man in a much louder tone.

The barber looked closely at Croupin. "No-o," he replied slowly. "He's a stranger to me. I have never seen him before."

The burly man nodded significantly. "Well, just keep an eye on him," he snarled. "That's all." He gave Croupin a nasty look. "He ought to have been gaoled long ago, but he's been too clever for us up to now. He keeps bad company, and we are pretty certain he picks pockets when he gets the chance. So you look out." He nodded again. "He saw me up the street just now and bolted in here. But I'd spotted him."

"Oh! no, zat is not so," began Croupin protestingly. "I vanted a shave and I——"

"Keep your mouth shut," broke in the man roughly. He turned to the barber again. "Now, you mind, I've warned you, and if he steals anything from you, it's your look out," and turning on his heel, he strode out of the shop and banged the door to behind him.

A moment's silence followed, and then the barber said angrily, "And off you go, too, Monsieur Nation, for I see you will bring trouble upon me if I don't look out."

"No, no," said Croupin, shaking his head. "It is all bluff. They have nothing against me. That man is always a great bully." He settled himself comfortably in the chair. "Give me a shave, please. I will pay you. I have money now."

"No," said the barber firmly. "You will leave my shop at once. I will not shave you."

"All right," said Croupin shrugging his shoulders, with a smile. "Just as you like. I will go," and then getting out of the chair he stooped suddenly and made to pick up a crumpled up piece of paper that was lying upon the floor. But his movement was ill-judged, for although he certainly got hold of the paper, it slipped away from his hand, making a hard sound as it fell on to the linoleum. Then something rolled out of it, and only a lightning grab on the part of the Frenchman prevented the object, whatever it was, from rolling under the chair.

The barber started. "What's that you picked up?" he asked. "It's a ring. It belongs to me."

"Oh, no, Monsieur, it doesn't," said Croupin coolly, putting his hand and whatever he had picked up into his pocket. "It is mine and I dropped it on purpose when that nosey policeman came in. I didn't want him to find it on me."

The barber thought like lightning. Of course, he told himself, the ring was stolen and he could give the Frenchman up to the police, on the other hand—on the other hand the man had shown himself such a poor bargainer the previous day, that it was quite possible, he, Voisin, might make a good purchase again.

"Show me the ring," he said peremptorily.

The Frenchman hesitated and gave a half-glance round to the door. But the door was shut, and if he indeed had meditated a quick get-away, he at once thought better of it. So now, smiling amiably, he withdrew his hand from his pocket, and held up for inspection a beautiful diamond ring upon his second finger.

"It is a lovely thing," he said proudly, "and worth quite £200, for the stones are of the purest water."

"They are only paste," scoffed Voisin, with his heart beating quickly, for he sensed instinctively possibilities of great profit.

"Paste!" sneered Croupin, and in two seconds he had darted over to the mirror and made a deep scratch down the side of the glass. "Would paste do that?"

"Then it is stolen!" exclaimed the barber. "You have been robbing somewhere!"

"No, no, I haven't," expostulated Croupin. He grinned impudently. "I just found it, months and months ago." He nodded significantly. "So many months ago that it is now probable it is forgotten it was lost."

The barber swallowed the bait. "What are you going to do with it then?" he growled. "You'll be pinched at once if you offer it to any jeweller."

Croupin was all confidence at once. "That is my difficulty," he said, with a very troubled expression. "I found this ring"—he nodded again—"and lots of other jewellery, too, that I have hidden away where no one knows." He pointed to his worn and dirty clothes. "But I can sell nothing to any one in these."

Voisin made no comment, but crossing to his shop door he opened it and for a long while stood looking up and down the street. Then he returned into the shop and carefully closing the door after him, regarded Croupin with a hard and stoney stare.

"You have been in prison?" he asked. "You look a regular thief to me."

Croupin smiled with the confidence of one who could keep his own counsel. "I have had my troubles, Monsieur, in my own country," he replied quietly, "but no one has got anything on me over here." His eyes flashed in amusement. "I work always with a settled plan and if I find anything I don't rush off to sell it at once." He shook his head. "No, I keep quiet until all the excitement has died down. I am in no hurry and I wait my time." He sighed and looked down again at his clothes. "But it is not often I am as short of ready money as I am now."

Voisin made up his mind at last. "Go in there," he said, pointing in the direction of the inner room, "and I will have a little talk with you and we can drink again." He frowned. "But I'll shut this shop door first, so that if any one comes they'll only think I've gone out to get a drink." He smiled a meaning smile. "I often do."

Then, in the talk that followed, an amusing little comedy ensued with the lively Raphael Croupin in his best dramatic and imaginative vein. The good wine of his country stirring in him he threw all reserve to the winds and told frankly of his one-time association with the underworld of Paris. How although really a chef by profession, he had sometimes pursued other avocations, and in unlawful ways had gained entrance into many a lordly chateau in the dead of night! How he helped in the robbery of valuable pictures and jewels, how he had worked with Mank, Labellier, and Ravahol, and with others, too, whose names were written broad and deep in the annals of dark crime!

But he had been fortunate in big robberies, he explained, and escaped when all the others had fallen into the clutches of the law.

Then he told how he had come to England and obtained employment in the luxurious Semiris Hotel, which catered only for the very rich, and there, whilst working in the kitchen had kept his eyes open to benefit himself in other ways.

One day, for a few minutes, he had managed to get possession of the master key that opened all the rooms in the hotel, and taking a wax impression of it, had had one made for himself.

Then awaiting his opportunity, he had abstracted the jewel case of a great lady who was staying in the hotel, but had hidden them away in a place he knew of, where they were not likely to be found, however thorough a search were made for them.

"All except the ring, Monsieur," he chuckled to the raptly listening barber, "and that I screwed up in a piece of paper, and thrust into the middle of a potato. Then I threw the potato out into the yard, where I knew I should be able to find it again. It rolled into the gutter on the top of one of the washhouses, and I came back two nights after I had been sent away and got it."

"Then you were sent away from the hotel!" said Voisin.

"Yes, for I was suspected at once," replied Croupin. "I had not taken the jewels one hour before they were missed. Then a waiter, whose girl had come to like me better than she liked him, reported to the manager that he had seen me in the corridor, and they did not think the explanation I gave for being there was good enough." He laughed merrily. "I told them I had seen a rat run up the stairs, and had followed it to try and kill it. But they put me in a little room with two of the porters to guard me, and sent for the police. Then I was searched and questioned until my throat was hoarse and dry with answering. But they could find out nothing, and they had to let me go. Then I was sent away with no character."

The barber regarded him very suspiciously. "I don't think I believe you," he said slowly. "You may be telling me all lies."

"But I am not," expostulated Croupin quickly. "I tell you, man, I only want decent clothes and then I will go back to that hotel in disguise, as a visitor, and pick up those jewels." He drew himself up proudly. "I can look as well as any of the other visitors, for my family were rich once, and my father was of the French mobility."

"But how dare you tell me all this?" asked Voisin, screwing up his eyes suspiciously. "I may inform the police at once! You don't know me!"

"Oh! don't I?" replied Croupin. "But I do, mon ami." He laughed mockingly. "You are as big a thief as I am, for you only gave me six shillings for those razors yesterday afternoon, and that very morning a woman had bought them in Bond Street for six guineas. I pinched them out of her car and the price was on the bottom of the case before I threw it away. She was giving them to her husband, for there was a card inside, 'From your loving wife, Hilda.'" He chuckled. "Yes, you are worse than I am, for you rob the very poor and I rob only from the rich."

The barber looked uncomfortable, but he had another shot ready, for he knew if Croupin had spent the night, as he said he had done, in the lodging house kept by the family of Ah Chung, a valuable ring would not by any chance have escaped their notice after a drink of doped rum.

"And where then have you been keeping this ring, Monsieur Nation?" he asked in as casual a tone as he could assume. "Do you always carry it about with you?"

Croupin looked most astonished at the question.

"No! no! no!" he exclaimed with great emphasis, "I am not quite such a fool as that." He pointed again to his clothes. "Why! if some screeching woman in a crowd called out one day that she had been robbed and I were near her"—he made an expressive gesture with his hands—"well, dressed like this, wouldn't everybody suspect me at once, and what then would happen, even if they got nothing else, if a valuable ring were found in my pocket?"

"Well, where do you keep it?" asked the barber. "You've told me you've got no home, and sleep anywhere you can."

"Ha! Ha!" laughed Croupin, "I may have no home, but there are plenty of hiding places in London that I know of." He chuckled. "I tell you what I do. I screw it up tight in a piece of newspaper and hide it in some churchyard. I push it down by the side of some tomb-stone, and it is always safe. Last night it was in a churchyard in Bethnal Green."

Voisin hesitated no more. "I'll give you £4 for it," he said. "Take it or leave it."

Croupin looked highly amused. "£4!" he exclaimed. "It is a joke! I want £60 for it, for it is worth £200."

"Well then, I shall tell the police," replied Voisin angrily, and rising from his chair. "I shall tell them at once."

"No, you won't," said Croupin retaining his seat and unasked, helping himself to another of the barber's cigarettes. "You are not such a fool as that, for I should tell them of the wine you have given me and about those razors I sold you yesterday." He nodded. "They would believe some of it, and you would be a marked man for ever afterwards. Besides my friend, you would get nothing out of it, whereas"—he threw out his hands again—"if you help me, the profit on this ring is not one fiftieth of the profit you will get from the other jewels. But you look here," and diving into his pocket he produced a crumpled piece of paper, and spreading it out, thrust it under the barber's eyes.

"This is the list of the jewels that the woman had written in the lid of the case," he went on, "and I have got them all. Rings, brooches, bangles, pendants, and a rope of pearls. I had not time to go through them"—his eyes sparkled—"but I saw the pearls were big." His tone was most persuasive. "You can see I am not deceiving you, for the handwriting is a woman's, and from the paper and ink you can tell it was written long ago. See that crest at the top, too. She was a very rich woman no doubt."

And Croupin was only speaking the truth here, for the paper had come out of the family jewel case of the wealthy countess who had died and bequeathed to him all her belongings.

The barber sat down again, and now accepting as truth all that Croupin had told him, was in a very troubled frame of mind. It was tormenting him that he could not have all the profit for himself, but he saw that the Frenchman was adamant, and very different now from the cringing and easily bullied creature who had sold him the razors the previous day. Besides, he realised that the deal was going to be too big for him to handle, and he would have to call someone else in.

He thought first of Ah Chung, but told himself instantly that it would never do to have dealings with him in a matter like this, for being well acquainted with Ah Chung's methods, he was not willing that only a knife thrust should stand between the Chinaman and the acquisition of the whole of the booty. He knew the customs of the Orientals upon the Causeway too well and would not risk it.

The two sat on talking and arguing for a long time, and customer after customer knocked unheeded upon the shop door. Finally, they came to an arrangement. Voisin was to give Croupin a receipt for the ring and the list of the jewellery, so that there could be no double crossing on his part, and then the Frenchman was to return to the barber's shop at 10 o'clock that night, when Voisin swore with many oaths there would be good news for him, and a way found to put him in possession of sufficient funds to enable him to obtain the other jewels.

Chuckling to himself, Croupin left the barber's and made his way to Aldgate, where he partook of a more or less satisfying hot meal at a cook shop that was in keeping with his clothes. Then he put in two hours at a picture show and, finally, at five minutes past ten, was tapping on the barber's door.

It was opened with no delay by Voisin, who without a word led him into the inner room and motioned him to a chair that Croupin noticed at once was now in a different position to that it had occupied before, upon both of the two occasions when he had been there. It was now well away from the wall, and turned at an angle, faced a door that he supposed must lead out into a scullery or washhouse. This door was slightly ajar.

Croupin sniffed delicately at the air. "Good!" he thought, "then if he doesn't shut that door I shall know I'm being watched. I'm on show to see if I am dangerous. Some one has just been in here who is a heavy smoker of cigars. I can smell his clothes."

Croupin knew it was at considerable risk that he had taken on the game he had, and he was very much on the alert for any possible danger, but he comforted himself with the thought that they would be reckoning him as much more valuable to them alive than when dead. Also, he was assured by the feel of the small automatic pistol that he was gripping with the hand that he held in his pocket.

The barber seemed ill at ease and his eyes were in every direction but that of Croupin. "That friend of mine, I have asked to call will be here in a few minutes," he said, "but before he comes I want to ask you some questions, quick," and then he rapped out at once—"How long have you been in England, Monsieur Nation?"

"Nine months," replied Croupin promptly. "I arrived in January."

"But how did you get a passport," asked the barber sharply, "if you had trouble with your police? You told me you had been in prison a few times, for a little while."

Croupin winked his eye. "I had no passport," he said. "I did not need one. I was cook on a boat from Bordeaux, and I deserted at Falmouth, directly it got in."

The barber forced a sickly smile. "You are always ready with your answers, Monsieur," he said, "and, if you are deceiving me, no doubt you will be thinking yourself very clever." He turned his back to Croupin and walked to the cupboard. "Well, I will get you a glass of wine."

Croupin certainly did think himself clever and, now that the man's back was turned, would greatly have liked to have indulged in a good grin, but he remembered that half-opened door in front of him, and accordingly kept his features in a thoughtful and becoming gravity.

The barber was a long time getting down the bottle and drawing the cork, and Croupin would have had ample time to have smiled many times, but he continued to preserve a perfectly set face, and then suddenly—the door that was ajar was pushed wide open and a man stepped into the room.

Croupin's heart beat like a sledge hammer as he sprang instantly to his feet, for as he had half hoped and half expected, the man before him was the one who had been with Short Alf that night when they had raided the safe. He pretended to look very scared.

"Don't be upset, Mr. Nation," came a sharp voice, speaking in English, "and you can leave that pistol alone that you've got in your pocket. No one's going to do you any harm and I'm only going to speak to you about that ring." He regarded Croupin very sternly. "You speak English, don't you?"

Croupin appeared to have in some degree got over his fright. "Yes, I speak it a leetel," he replied as if rather nervously, "but I understand it a lot."

"And everything you have told Mr. Voisin is the exact truth?" asked Guildford, for, of course, the new comer was he.

"Zat is quite right," nodded Croupin. "It is all true."

"Well, I must be certain about you," went on Guildford, "before I attempt to do any business." He spoke sternly, as if he were a judge addressing a prisoner. "Now you have been a chef at the Semiris, you say? You are not just an ordinary cook on a ship?"

"No! no!" expostulated Croupin. "I am a finished chef."

"Then tell me what flavourings you use for a Peach Melba?" asked Guildford quickly.

Croupin showed his beautiful white teeth, "Maraschino, vanilla, and raspberry," he replied promptly.

"And what's the name of the manager of the Semiris, then?" asked Guildford.

"Emil Ashberg," was the reply. "He is an Austrian."

"And what's the name of the woman whose jewels you took?" was the next question.

Instantly Croupin drew himself up, and shook his head. "I shall not say," he replied firmly. "Zat is my secret." He threw out his hands. "You run no risk. You buy ze ring for £60, zat you can sell again for £200. You are quite safe. Zen I get the ozer jewels and you make profit again, for I sell zem to you."

Guildford regarded him stonily for a long moment and then he turned round to the barber and said sharply, "Put on the wine, Voisin, but I'll have brandy. I think it's all right to deal with this man."

One o'clock was sounding when Croupin crept into the room where Larose was sleeping, and awakening him, proceeded gleefully to give a recital of all that had happened.

Directly he started upon his news, the expression of Larose was one of triumph and delight, but then suddenly his face fell and he interrupted sharply. "Great Jupiter!" he exclaimed, "but they 'phoned me not half an hour ago, that the estate agent had not set foot outside his house and that his light had just been switched off." He shook his head angrily. "I shall have to see into this myself."


CHAPTER IX.—THE TRAIL OF BLOOD.

About ten o'clock on the morning of the fifth day after he had interviewed the enterprising Alexandre Nation in the shop of Voisin, the barber, Guildford emerged from the street door of the office of Edward Mason, estate agent, in no very pleasant frame of mind.

He was furious with Sir Charles Carrion, for he had just been reading in that morning's newspapers lurid and exciting accounts of the extensive damage that had been done to the Albert Memorial by the exploding of a bomb there late the previous night.

It was not for one moment that he regretted the damage that had been done to the memorial, but it was in his mind that if the mentally afflicted baronet continued to go planting bombs in public places, sooner or later it was certain he would get caught, and then—well, he, Guildford, did not like to contemplate what would happen.

It was quite likely, he told himself, that once laid by the heels, Sir Charles Carrion would not only boast openly of all his exploits, but, glorying in everything that had been done, might proceed at once to give chapter and verse about all the other outrages, and perhaps, out of sheer devilry, disclose the identities of all who had been associated with him. Such a revelation would just appeal to the baronet's vicious and distorted sense of humour, and it would delight him to know that punishment was falling upon them all.

He left the office quite openly and strode resolutely along towards the first bus-stop about a hundred yards away. He looked straight before him, and no one would for one moment have imagined from his demeanour that he had any thought of the possibility of his being followed.

But had the truth been known, he was very much on the alert for any such contingency and, always a cautious man when upon any business he desired to keep secret, he was now intending to take ample precautions there should be no trailing him.

Now whatever may be urged to the contrary, in a huge and densely populated city like London it is absolutely impossible, without definitely confirming his suspicions, to successfully shadow an individual who suspects he is being watched.

To trail a man who has no idea that any one is after him may be quite an easy matter, but to follow one who acts as if he thought he were is quite a different matter.

And so it was that morning with Guildford.

A dozen of the best men of the Yard had been placed ready to look out for him if he left his premises on any of the preceding five days. They had all visited the estate office on one pretext or another, and were quite familiar with his personality, and at no hour of the twenty-four, they were sure, could he appear either in the Mile End Road or in the street behind his office, without at once being picked up.

But no one had ever been seen to be waiting outside his place of business, and there had been no one even at the first bus stop in either direction. In the first floor windows, however, of houses near both of these stops, a man had sat all day and night long, prepared to give a signal to a colleague 200 and more yards away, and further away still, in both directions, a taxi had been kept hovering about.

So when Guildford walked out of his office that morning and picked up a bus going West, it happened he was the only one to get in at the stop, and out of the tail of his eye he noticed that fact. But he was not thereby in any way assured, and when at the next stop two men mounted on to the footboard he eyed them covertly, and was of opinion that both of them might be connected with the police.

The bus proceeded down Whitechapel Road and stopped at Aldgate. He made no movement to alight when it discharged some other passengers, but just when it was on the move again, he sprang suddenly from his seat as if it were from sheer forgetfulness he had omitted to get out before, and jumped on to the road. Then he turned round and stood watching deliberately to see if any one were going to follow him.

The two men he had noticed cursed under their breaths, but mindful of the strict orders they had received that on no account were they to arouse any suspicion, continued to sit on where they were, trusting that the two of their colleagues who were following in a taxi would pick him up.

But the taxi had dawdled just a little too far behind the bus and Guildford was able to dart in to Aldgate Station and snatch a ticket from the automatic machine a good half minute before they arrived. Then rushing down the stairs he caught a West-bound train actually upon the move. So he was certain now that no one had followed him.

He alighted at Cannon Street, and then after a sharp walk up Gracechurch Street, and turning round twice in his tracks to make sure he did not light upon the same people each time, he picked a taxi off a rank and was driven to Oxford Circus.

There he went into a call office and ringing up the Semiris Hotel, inquired if a French gentleman of the name of de Bearne were staying there and received a reply in the affirmative. Thereupon he asked to speak to him, but after holding on for a couple of minutes or so whilst a search was being made in the hotel, he was informed that the gentleman in question had gone out. He said then that it did not matter and he would ring up again. He did not leave any message or give his name.

"Well, he's staying there all right," he nodded to himself when he was out in the street again, "and so it looks as if what he told us were the truth. I expect now he'll soon be getting in touch with Voisin again."

His next move was to call upon Sir Charles Carrion in Harley Street, and, informing the nurse he had an appointment for eleven o'clock, he was speedily ushered into the consulting room.

"My dear sir," exclaimed the surgeon loudly, and with a beaming smile, directly he caught sight of him, "and how have you been getting on." He made a motion in the direction of the couch. "Just take off your clothes, will you, and I'll soon run you over."

But there was no answering smile upon Guildford's face, and directly the door was closed he asked scowlingly, "And that tomfoolery last night was yours, of course?"

Sir Charles looked as happy as a child. "Sure," he replied laughingly, "with my own hands I did it." He lowered his voice impressively. "I waited a couple of hundred yards away, until I saw the coast was all clear, then up I drove and jumped out of the car. I put the bomb close up against the column, released the catch, and then was off again in thirty seconds." He chuckled with delight. "The thing exploded in just a minute, and although I was a quarter of a mile away by then, the explosion shook my very car. I was laughing so, I could hardly steer straight."

"It's darned tomfoolery, I say," swore Guildford angrily, "and you are bound to get caught if you go on."

"And what does it matter if I am," replied Sir Charles, still all smiles. "I know I haven't long to live with this cursed liver of mine. I had a haemorrhage yesterday, and by rights ought to be upon my back to-day." He lifted up his hand suddenly and gave a low whistle of enlightenment. "Oh! I know what you are thinking of—you believe I'd give you all away if I were caught?"

"There is no knowing what you'd do," growled Guildford. "I tell you frankly, I'm afraid of you."

Sir Charles shook his head emphatically. "No, no, friend Guildford," he said, "you needn't worry, for you'll be quite safe there." He chuckled again. "I have no wish to step into eternity with a scoundrel like Bascoigne, a common thief like yourself, and a man like Libbeus, who has disgraced his profession."

"What about you?" sneered Guildford, stung to anger by his contempt. "You're a credit to your calling, aren't you?"

The eyes of the baronet glinted in anger too. "But of one thing you should be made aware, Mr. Sabine Guildford," he said sternly, "and that is, I have never in any instance strayed from the code of conventional morality to benefit myself." His voice was firm and resonant. "Any wrongs that I may be judged to have committed are not wrongs according to the code of morality I have adopted for my own guidance." He nodded. "'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth' is my motto, and as society has done unto me, so am I now doing unto them." All his resentment seemed to die down in a flash and he chuckled yet again. "No, I have never sinned for cash."

"Well, I am of opinion it's devilish foolish your going on," insisted Guildford doggedly. "What good does it do, blowing up monuments and damaging public buildings?"

Sir Charles shrugged his shoulders. "It pleases me," he replied with a smile, "and surely you would not take pleasure from a dying man." His eyes brightened again. "Why I am looking forward with the eagerness of a child to that little business at Rostrellor Court to-morrow night. It will be a sort of Punch and Judy show to me, and carry me back to my boyhood's days." He pulled open a drawer in the desk and abstracting a paper, handed it across to Guildford. "Here you are. The whole programme cut and dried. Just sit down and run through it."

With a scowl Guildford took the paper from him and then for a few minutes there was silence in the room with Sir Charles leaning back and closing his eyes as if he were very tired.

Presently Guildford spoke. "And exactly at a quarter-past one," he said slowly, with his eyes fixed intently upon the paper, "you will unlatch the front door and prop the mat up against it to keep it from moving. We are to cross the hall and go up the main staircase, and the room is the third upon the left. There will be no fear of waking any one, because you will see that both Lord and Lady Rostrellor are well drugged with sleeping tablets, and besides Lord Rostrellor will probably be three parts drunk. We may fined the safe unlocked, or in any case, it is only an old-fashioned Weber and a Jemmy will open it at once, or yet again, the jewellery may have been left upon the dressing table, for they are very careless people." He looked up and asked sharply. "Are you sure that the whole thing will be as simple as that?"

"Quite," replied Sir Charles, opening his eyes wearily, "and if it were not that for sentimental reasons I object, mine should be the actual hands to rob my relatives, and I would hand you over the jewels myself." Some energy came into his voice again. "Oh! and if everything runs smoothly, you might look in the drawing room before you go out. It is the second room on the right, leading out of the hall and there is some valuable old silver there. Snuffboxes and the like. You might take a few of them, too."

"What about the telephone?" asked Guildford. "You'll put that out of action, of course!"

"No," replied Sir Charles at once, "there are three or four extensions in the house and I don't pretend to understand them, so I won't risk being caught messing them about." He spoke testily. "But you needn't worry there, man, for if you don't bungle, nothing will be discovered until the morning. Every one will be dead sleepy, for a lot of Rostrellor's old burgundy will be drunk, and you can depend upon it that all the servants will have had their whack of it, too."

"And I can find your Keston bungalow easily?" asked Guildford. "There is no need to go down to-day?"

"None whatever," was the reply. "You can't mistake it. It is the only residence by the lake-side and stands quite by itself. Here are the two keys and you can run your car into the garage without a soul being any the wiser."

"I'm only taking Voisin," said Guildford. "I can depend upon him."

"I should think you could," commented Sir Charles. "He looks a damned scoundrel to me and should be quite up to the game." He laughed suddenly. "Oh! I met Mr. Bascoigne by chance in Bond Street yesterday and we had a short chat together. He's got the wind up properly and never moves a yard now without thinking he's being followed. He says his place at Crowborough was burgled last week and some one opened his safe."

"The devil!" ejaculated Guildford, choking back a grin. "Did he lose much?"

"No, only a couple of £5 notes," replied Sir Charles. "But what frightens him is, a newspaper recording his trial was taken from a drawer in his desk. He says the whole thing is very mysterious, and he's got that snooker, Larose, now completely on his mind. He says he can't understand it, for the servants found a strange glove behind the settee in his study the next morning, and marks on the wall as if someone had been hiding there."

Guildford's face fell. "When did it happen?" he asked quickly, and certainly with no inclination to grin now.

"The night we were all at Ah Chung's," replied Sir Charles, "and what happened, according to him, is undoubtedly most strange. He went down two days after, and his butler met him with a long tale about marks of mud in the hall, marks on the study carpet that smelt of tobacco-juice, the front door or some window having been opened in the night, because the hall was much colder than it should have been, and that glove and those marks behind the settee. Then he examined the contents of the safe and saw a lot of documents there were not as he had left them, and those two £5 notes had gone. Finally, he found this newspaper had been taken from his desk."

"And this glove behind the settee," asked Guildford sharply, "what was it like?"

"An expensive Suede one that belonged to no one in the house, and a man's glove undoubtedly." He looked quickly at his watch and then rose at once to his feet. "But I'm sorry I can't give you any more time now. I feel dreadfully ill, but I am still going on with my work." He made a wry face. "I've not quite made up my mind whether to die in harness or get blown up with the next bomb."

Guildford was most uneasy during his journey back to Mile End Road. The thought of that glove behind the settee and worse still, that abstraction of the newspaper from the desk made him feel sick with apprehension.

"But they are nothing to do with me," he consoled himself finally, "and after this Rostrellor affair and I know for certain about that stuff coming from the Semiris, I'll clear off quick and lively. I've had enough of these mad fools."

Arriving back at his office, he had at once other things to occupy his mind, for Voisin was waiting for him there, and directly they were alone the barber rapped out. "That fellow Nation's been in to see me this morning. He wants more money to go on living at that hotel. He can't get into the room he wants to, yet, and he's running short."

"But he had £50!" exclaimed Guildford angrily. "What's he done with it?"

"He says it nearly all went on his clothes and his luggage," replied Voisin, "and as he's a stranger to the management, he says they may ask him for a deposit at any moment. He knows that is the usual custom with people who haven't stayed there before."

"Then how much does he want?" asked Guildford.

"Another £50," was the reply with a grin. "He says his suite of rooms is costing him £4/4/ a day."

Guildford considered for a moment.

"Well, what does he look like now?" he asked.

"A real swell," replied the barber with enthusiasm. "Very well dressed and as good as anybody." He nodded his head emphatically. "Yes, I'm sure he's been telling us the truth. He is not a common thief and he's been in a big way. He has altered his face a lot and wears a moustache now."

"Did he put any questions to you about me?" asked Guildford.

The barber hesitated. "Yes and no," he replied. "He said at once that he didn't expect I would tell him who you are or where you live, but he seemed worried as to whether you could pay up for those jewels when he got them. He expects some thousands of pounds."

"Oh! he does, does he?" remarked Guildford drily. "Well, we'll have to see about that."

"He wants that £50 at once," went on the barber. "I'm to 'phone him up about it at the hotel. He's staying in until he hears from me."

Again Guildford considered. "Do you think it is a plant to get at me?" he asked with a frown. "You haven't been followed here?"

"Not a chance," replied Voisin, grinning cunningly. "I went out through the bird-shop and took great care." He shook his head. "Besides, I'm sure the fellow is quite all right. I can tell he's been in gaols in France, for he knows all the ways of prisons"—he smiled grimly—"as well as I do."

"Well, ring him up," said Guildford after a pause, "and tell him you'll have the money for him to-night at nine o'clock." He frowned in annoyance. "But I'll have another talk with him first, for I'm not going to part with the £50 without good reason. If he gets the stuff, there's no certainty he'll bring it to us." He nodded. "Still you ring him up and tell him to come to your place."

* * *

A few minutes before nine that night the merry Monsieur Nation was knocking at the barber's door. He had got the collar of his coat well tucked up, and his hat was pulled down well over his eyes. He was carrying with him a very carefully done-up small parcel, which he explained to Voisin when he got inside was a bottle of good brandy for a treat. He did not add, however, that the surface of the bottle had been very delicately rubbed with a piece of bacon rind in the expectation that he would get the fingerprints of both the barber and Guildford before he left Rent Street that night.

"And don't say I brought it, mon ami," he whispered impressively when he learnt, as he had expected, that Guildford was coming to bring the money, "or your rich friend will say that no wonder my funds are getting low. It is good stuff. Here, hold it up to the light and see the beautiful dark colour. No pale brandies for me!" and so a couple of moments later the barber was leaving generous greasy finger marks upon one of the beautifully engraved cards of 'Monsieur Raoul de Berne, Avenue des Fleurs, Chantilly.'

"That is the address I have ready," explained the lively Croupin, as he carefully placed the greased card in the empty side of his cigarette case. He chuckled. "I am prepared for everything when I am playing for big stakes."

Guildford arrived almost at the stroke of nine, and noted with silent approval the elegant appearance of the Frenchman, indeed, being so impressed that all remaining tinges of suspicion that a trap was being set by the police at once faded away.

"He is no police spy," he told himself. "This fine gentleman here is a first-class Parisian thief, and he may be very useful to me if I manage him properly."

"Well," he asked at once, "how is it that you want more money?"

Croupin threw out his hands. "I am sorry, Monsieur," he said in his melodious broken English, "but to stay at ze Semiris cost lot of money, and I——"

"But you haven't paid anything there yet," broke in Guildford sharply. "You say you have not paid them a penny."

"No, no," agreed Croupin instantly, "but ze fifty pounds have nearly all gone on ze outfit. I had to have ze best of everysing, or ze chamber maids vould talk. Silk shirts, silver-backed brushes, good pyzamas, ze best of shoes." He nodded, "I buy zem all second-hand, but I have not £10 left, and if zey suddenly ask me for money it would be bad."

"And when can you get at the things?" asked Guildford.

"On Monday," replied Croupin. "Zere is a man who has been ill in ze room I must get into, and he nevaire leave it. But he is much better, and go away Monday, and I have bespeak his room, because of ze view." He nodded again. "On Tuesday I bring everysing for you to buy."

"And how do I know that?" asked Guildford, eyeing him intently. "You may take them somewhere else if once I part with the £50."

Croupin threw out his hands. "Bah! ze fifty pounds is small trifle to me!" he exclaimed. "I tell you ze jewels vill fetch great sum of money. No, you must trust me as I trusted Monsieur Voisin when I gave him ze ring to show you, ze ozzer day."

"But he had given you a receipt for it," said Guildford.

Croupin laughed derisively. "And za vas of no good," he replied, "for if he say I have not given him ze ring, zen off I go to ze police and say, 'Look here, zat Voisin rob me of ring I stole from someone else. Put him in ze prison at once.'" He snapped his fingers together. "I should look a fool, should I not?"

They argued on for a few minutes and finally Guildford paid over the £50.

"Bien!"' exclaimed Croupin, putting away the notes, "and now I will drink to our healths in Monsieur Voisin's good brandy," and holding the bottle by the neck he poured himself out a good nip and drank it up.

A minute or so later and Guildford helped himself, too, then he had hardly put down the bottle when Croupin almost thrust one of the menu cards of the Semiris Hotel into his hand.

"See, Monsieur," he exclaimed, gleefully, "how I am living now, and a week ago—" he laughed with great enjoyment—"I was having my bed in filthy holes, and eating ze food zat vas only good for pigs."

Guildford scanned down the card. "One guinea for your dinner Mr. Nation!" he commented drily. "Yes you are certainly doing yourself well!"

* * *

That night Ah Chung said to his relation, Ho Ling—"That Voisin will not be of use to us much more. He sold some razors to me last week that he said had cost thirty shillings, and I found to-day he had only paid six. I went into his room this morning when he was away and read it in his book. He is methodical and keeps good accounts. Besides, he is not with us now in other ways. Yesterday he said his brother is sick in Birmingham, and to-morrow he will tell me he goes to see him. But he is on other business. He is lying to me."

"It is well, Ah Chung," replied his relation calmly. "To-day I found three sacks in the street that had fallen from a dray. They have no markings and do not come from here. They will serve when the hour comes. This river never speaks."

"This morning he went out through next door," continued Ah Chung, "and he looked many times along the street to see he was not followed. He was away two hours. He is doing something and will bring trouble upon us if we do not watch."

"I sigh for the country of our ancestors," said Ho Ling. "Will it be long now, O Ah Chung, before it gives us greeting."

A long silence followed before the answer came. "No, it will not be long Ho Ling," replied Ah Chung softly. "The morning will soon come. Buy no more animals, for we shall not need them. I, too, am lonely, and would wish to see our home."

The following morning, Larose, having informed the delighted Croupin that he should probably not be wanting him for a couple of days, and that, he could therefore take a holiday, proceed to pay a visit to the finger-print department of Scotland Yard, with the request that the clearly-defined finger-prints upon the two cards that Croupin had obtained for him should be photographed, and a search made to ascertain if they had any record of either of them upon their files.

Returning two hours later he was thrilled almost beyond expression to learn that although of one set of finger-prints the department had no record, the other was that of a Sabine Guildford, a one-time lawyer, who fourteen years previously had been sentenced to five years' imprisonment for misappropriation of moneys entrusted to his care.

He made no comment and gave no explanation, but next asked to see the convict's photograph and the description of him that had been filed at the time of his conviction.

He drew a deep breath of thankfulness as he gazed at the photo. Allowing for the difference in age, there was not the slightest doubt that the lawyer Guildford and the estate agent Mason were the same man! The same forehead, the same firm jaw, the same stern expression of the eyes!

He thanked the officials for their courtesy, and next proceeded to the office of 'The Times,' in Printing House Square, where, showing his badge, he asked to be allowed to go over the files for November, 1915.

He soon came upon the report of the trial he wanted.

Sabine Guildford had been arraigned for employing £3000 of a client's money in a private speculation, and had been tried before a Mr. Justice Ames. For the moment Larose was very disappointed at learning who the judge had been, but then remembering that the murdered Samuel Wiggins had been living at Leigh-on-Sea, his heart gave a big bound when he read that the client who had been robbed, a widow of the name of Wiser, also resided in that same town.

The trial had been very short, and, although Guildford had admitted the offence, he had insisted vehemently that if the arrest had been delayed for only three weeks, nothing would have been heard of the matter, for the speculation he had entered into, and which at first had seemed to be a disastrous one, had righted itself suddenly and his client would be receiving back her money in full.

But the Law Society, through the Prosecutor for the Crown, had urged strenuously that in determining the sentence, the erring lawyer should receive, no mitigation should be made because the money had been recovered, and pleaded that an exemplary example should be made. The Judge, thereupon, evidently agreeing with them, had sentenced Guildford to five years' imprisonment with hard labour.

The next move of Larose was to consult a post office directory of the County of Essex, and he was delighted again to see that a Mrs. Wiser was still living at Leigh-on-Sea. Resolving then to advance his case as far as possible before he made any report to the Chief Commissioner, half an hour later he was driving down to that thriving resort at the mouth of the Thames.

He found Mrs. Wiser, an old lady well over seventy, without any difficulty, but upon making known from where he came and that he wanted to ask her about the trial of 15 years ago, was met with an almost tearful refusal to discuss it in any way.

"I'm getting old," said Mrs. Wiser tremulously, "and it isn't right for any one to come and worry me. I've not had a good night's rest since that dreadful murder of my poor brother, and——"

"Your brother!" ejaculated Larose in astonishment. "Then was that Mr. Wiggins your brother?"

"Of course he was, and my only one, too," she replied with a catch in her voice. "Didn't you know it? Why, he lived not three minutes from here, just in that street round at the back, and every day either he or his daughter used to come and see me."

Larose with difficulty suppressed his excitement, for in a lightning flash the trail of the murderer of Samuel Wiggins was uncovering itself before his eyes, the trail of Sabine Guildford from the Gibbett Inn upon that Sunday of the dreadful compact to the bloody knife-thrust inside that shelter upon the Esplanade close by.

Then quickly overcoming the old lady's disinclination to speak, by his gentle and sympathetic manner, he drew out by tactful questioning all the main incidents that had led to her one-time solicitor being placed in the dock.

Guildford had sold some property for her, and when she was perfectly aware the sale had been effected, she could nevertheless not get him to make a settlement. Apparently judging her character well, and knowing she was not in any way a business woman, he had kept putting her off, time after time, with one excuse and another. But happening to want the money urgently for a particular purpose, and beginning to get frightened, she had finally gone to her brother, a tea-broker in Mincing Lane.

Mr. Wiggins's had been a very different character to hers, and a sharp business man he had suspected something unusual immediately. So taking his own lawyer with him, a man of high standing on the executive of the Law Society, he had paid a surprise visit to Guildford, and insisted that the money should be paid over, without an hour's delay.

This, however, Guildford had been unable to do, and had pleaded for further time, but both her brother and this other lawyer had been adamant in their refusals to wait, and so Guildford had been arrested and charged that same day.

"And who was this other lawyer who went with your brother?" asked Larose, steadying his voice with an effort. "Do you remember his name?"

Mrs. Wiser shook her head. "No," she replied sadly, "my memory's getting very bad. But he was a friend of my brother," she added, "for Samuel called him Tony."

"Fate! Fate!" murmured Larose brokenly, "then they both died by the same hand. Samuel Wiggins and Anthony Clutterbuck!"

His next visit was to the daughter of the dead Samuel Wiggins, who was continuing to live on in the same house that she and her father and their one maid had been occupying prior to the dreadful tragedy that had overtaken them.

It was quite a good-class little house, standing in its own garden, and it was one of the score and more of exactly similar houses that stood in a road leading down to the sea. There were no houses opposite, just unfenced grass-land, running up to a road at a much higher level, in which the most conspicuous object was a large hotel.

Miss Wiggins was an athletic type of woman about 30, and in a wistful, but perfectly business-like way she answered all the questions he put to her about her late father's daily life. Mr. Wiggins, she told him, had of late been in the habit of going out very little because he could not walk far on account of his rheumatism; and he very seldom went out at night. When it was fine and warm enough it was his custom to sit out nearly all day long in the garden in front of the house.

"So it was only just by chance that he was killed," she explained, "for he hadn't left the garden for three days before that night. But the warm evening tempted him and he went down to the Esplanade to watch the lights of the big steamers as they passed out of the river." She nodded insistently. "And his murderer must have been a madman, for poor father hadn't an enemy in all the world. He was always so kind!"

"So that's that," remarked Larose very grimly, as he climbed back into his car, "and as sure as my name's Gilbert Larose there'll be an appointment one morning very shortly for Messrs. Bascoigne and Guildford to meet some chaplain at the early hour of 8 o'clock."


CHAPTER X.—"THE BURGLARY AT ROSTRELLOR COURT."

In the meantime the elegant Monsieur Choisy-Hautville had been enjoying what he was certain was one of the most thrilling days of his life, for he had been burning incense before the shrine of beauty, and the lights upon the altar there were the flower-blue eyes of the pretty Angela Lendon.

Now it is one of the great mysteries of life why perfectly sane and well-balanced individuals should suddenly one day come to conceive that some number of the opposite sex fulfils all the requirements of absolute perfection and delight.

The conception may come to those even with wide experience of the world, who hold most treasured memories of many adorations, and who have bent to the winds of unnumbered loves and passions.

It is a form of madness, defying reason and quite incapable of analysis.

And so it was with Raphael Croupin now that he had met Angela Lendon.

He had become hopelessly in love with her from the very first, to the extent of worship almost completely taking the place of passion.

Perhaps it was, he told himself, because she was so different to all he had been himself. He was soiled and tarnished and had drunk of many a forbidden cup, regarding love as a flower that faded soon and should be changed often.

But with her the serenity and purity of her mind were reflected in her face. Certainly, he thought, as yet she had only dreamed of love, and when she awoke to its pains and ecstasies the recipient of her favours would be among the most transfigured beings upon the earth.

Now, of course, in all these rhapsodies the ardent Frenchman was placing the pretty Angela very much upon a pedestal. She was only just an ordinary nice girl, who had been brought up very quietly, and, as a by no means well-to-do clergyman's daughter, had had very little chance of seeing the world.

She had had her flirtations, however, and was by no means averse to being made love to. Her Madonna-like face she had inherited from her mother, who had had seven children, and like that deceased lady, she, too, would most probably carry her virginal expression well into married life and with three or four children about her knees.

She had often thought of marriage and looked forward to it, but whilst she had determined she would never enter its holy state without being really in love she was always hopping that when Prince Charming did appear he would not be too badly endowed with this world's goods. She was quite a far-seeing and business-like young woman, and did not forget the pinched and hard-scraping times of her girlhood in the ill-furnished vicarage near Canterbury.

So, when the handsome Frenchman had sat opposite to her at lunch that day and had fixed her with his dark impelling eyes, and she had noticed his general elegance and his big emerald ring, her heart had begun to flutter, and she had thought that perhaps her dreams were now in a way of becoming true.

Then when they had gone into the music room and he was playing upon the harpsichord, she had noticed his eyes wandering all over her and had felt quite certain that he was admiring her.

That night, too, she had dreamed that he had kissed her and the memory of that kiss had set the seal upon her determination to encourage him in every way she could.

Her godmother had told her laughingly that she had seen how interested he had been in her and accordingly had made discreet inquiries about him from Gilbert Larose, and learnt that he was unmarried, of a very nice disposition, and, moreover, had recently come into a large fortune from a distant relation.

"Not that it was really necessary to make any inquiries about his character," she explained, "for when Mr. Larose told me they were old friends I knew that was quite sufficient. Helen Ardane is much too particular a woman to have married any one who likes any but nice people."

So things had been up to the morning following the day when Croupin had lunched with them, but then day after day passing without the Frenchman having rung up, as he had said he would, the girl had become very disappointed, although not for one moment would she allow any one to see it.

Mrs. Fox-Drummond was disappointed, too, for the London family had been left badly off, and a born intriguer, she was hoping to make a good match for Angela. Besides, apart from any question of means, she herself had taken a great liking to the Frenchman, and considering herself a good judge of character, was quite sure he would be kind to any girl he married.

But when just a week had gone by an explanation of Croupin's silence was suddenly forthcoming, for Mrs. Fox-Drummond was called to the telephone from the breakfast table to hear the melodious voice of Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville asking if he might come down and see them that morning.

He had had to go away, he said, on very urgent business, but that he would explain when he saw them. He was bringing down some harpsichord music, he added, and would like to give Miss Lendon a lesson upon the instrument.

"But what a pity we are going to that tiresome dinner at Lady Rostrellor's to-night," said Mrs. Fox-Drummond when she had imparted the news to the mildly blushing Angela, "or he could have stayed the whole day." She nodded. "Still, we need not leave here until after four o'clock."

The girl was in the garden when Croupin drove in through the gates, and she coloured becomingly as he sprang out of his car and came towards her.

"And did you wonder what had become of me?" he asked, holding her hand just long enough to let her know that his greeting was not an ordinary one.

"Good gracious, no," she laughed. "I haven't thought of you, have I?"

"But yes, I hope so," he laughed back happily, with sufficient knowledge of the ways of women to be aware that this would be the very sort of answer to expect from one who had been thinking quite a lot about him. He pretended to look very sad. "I should be grieved indeed if you had forgotten me."

"I hadn't forgotten you, of course," she replied archly; she now pretended to look stern, "or that you had said you were going to ring up soon."

Croupin put his finger to his lips and looked very mysterious. "Hush!" he whispered softly. "I have been away on a great adventure. One day I will tell you all, but I cannot now, for it is a secret between me and Mr. Larose." His face brightened. "But now I must see Mrs. Fox-Drummond at once. It is a lovely morning, and I want to know if I can take you for a drive."

She laughed merrily. "You needn't see her for that," she said, "for it is I who have to decide." She nodded. "Yes, I should like to come. Where shall we go?"

"I thought of Haslemere," he replied. "It is one of the most lovely spots of your beautiful country."

They went into the house for Angela to get ready and Mrs. Fox-Drummond at once invited Croupin to lunch. "But not a minute later than one," she added, "for this afternoon we are off to stay for two days with Lady Rostrellor at Rostrellor Court. There's a dinner party to-night and a ball tomorrow." She made a faint grimace. "It is a duty visit, for Lady Rostrellor is my aunt."

Croupin enjoyed the drive immensely, but with every minute fell deeper and deeper in the toils. Angela was not a bit shy, and while obviously desirous of pleasing, yet checked with laughing mockery any approach to tenderness on his part. Perhaps her instinct told her that the strongest chain to bind him to her would be forged by grudging and reluctant favours.

They returned home just before one, and were met in the hall by a very animated Mrs. Fox-Drummond.

"Oh! Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville," she exclaimed, "but are you free until to-morrow morning?"

Croupin did not appear to quite understand what she meant. "Free! Why I am always free!" he laughed. He suddenly remembered Larose and corrected himself quickly. "I mean I have nothing to do to-day or to-night. To-morrow"—he shrugged his shoulders—"I may have to help with Mr. Larose again, but why do you ask?"

Mrs. Fox-Drummond explained quickly. Her cousin, Mr. Fairfax, had been coming with them to Rostrellor Court, but less than an hour ago he had telephoned that he had suddenly found he had to make a journey to the north of England and could not possibly put it off. Manlike then, he had left it to her to make his apologies to Lady Rostrellor, and in great embarrassment she had rung up her godmother and told her of his defection at the eleventh hour.

Lady Rostrellor had been in despair, for the absence of one man she had averred, would ruin the harmony of the whole dinner party. It would make an uneven number of guests and one lady would have to go in alone.

"So she insisted," went on Mrs. Fox-Drummond plaintively, "that I must find the substitute myself, and bring him along with us this afternoon." She looked imploringly at Croupin. "Now, will you come, Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville? It will be such a kindness if you will oblige me. You will be stopping the night there for it is a house-party as well as a dinner one."

Croupin gave a side-glance at Angela, who was smiling expectantly. "Certainly, I will," he replied gallantly, "I shall be most delighted"—he drew attention to his morning clothes—"but, of course, I shall have to go up to town and get my things."

And so it came about that that night Croupin found himself seated in the immense dining room of Rostrellor Court among the many distinguished and aristocratic guests that were assembled there. But they were nearly all old or elderly, he noted, although the women were most expensively gowned, and the display of jewels was magnificent.

"Oh! Raphael, Raphael," he murmured, "it is a good thing you are above temptation now, for what a haul you could have made here!" He grimaced to himself. "But what a waste of beautiful things! These wrinkled and yellow skins are no proper background for jewels of beauty such as these! Why don't they give them to their children to wear." He grinned. "But perhaps they haven't had any."

The dinner was an excellent one, and the wines were the choicest that could have been laid down. Angela was seated on the other side of the table, and every now and again she flashed him a delicious look that quite took away the taste of everything he had got in his mouth at the moment.

There were 23 other diners and he had been introduced to a number of them before dinner, the lady who had been allotted to him—an angular and middle-aged Miss Drake-Raven, the daughter of the white-haired Bishop of Melton Mowbray, who was sitting not far away, proved most willing to supplement the introductions by providing details about everybody present.

She had a rather bitter and sarcastic tongue and was evidently delighted to meet some one, who as far as the present company was concerned, was of an innocent and virgin state of mind.

"Yes, this is quite a family party," she explained, "and we are nearly all related or connected by marriage to one another. That is the Dowager Lady Wortleberry over there, whose book of reminiscences last year made so many people furious. Dear old thing! She has such a dreadful memory. She never forgets anything. Of course, she didn't always mention names, but then everyone knew whom she meant. She was a very beautiful girl once. Tall and slim as a willow, they say."

Croupin regarded the almost dwarf-like lady she indicated, upon whose wizened bosom dangled an exquisite diamond pendant, and wondered with a pang if Angela would ever become a monstrosity like that.

"And that is Lord Wistleton of Hull," went on his informant, inclining her head towards a huge-chested individual with a big leonine head, who was imbibing long draughts of the classic Rostrellor burgundy as if it were so much diluted milk, "a very capable man, and ought to have been Prime Minister years ago." She nodded. "And he would have been, too, if he had not been married twice."

"Good gracious!" ejaculated Croupin, "then does a second marriage debar you from high political honours in this country?"

"It does," replied Miss Drake-Raven emphatically, "when it so happens"—she lowered her eyes with becoming modesty—"that your first wife is still living and has divorced you."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, wondering incredulously what possible physical attraction that leviathan body could have had for any member of the opposite sex. "He is a gay gentleman is he?"

"Most fascinating," commented Miss Drake-Raven with enthusiasm, "and when he is addressing any large audience he has a voice like a vesper bell." She continued. "And that's Sir Charles Carrion, the one who looks so ill. He is a very great surgeon, besides being the eleventh baronet of his line." She shook her head frowningly. "But he is very eccentric and disparages his own class and the nobility in a perfectly disgraceful way. Lady Rostrellor is always terrified at what he may be going to say."

"And who is that fine looking old gentleman with the long white moustache?" asked Croupin. "He looks a soldier to me."

"He is," was the instant reply, "and a very distinguished one, too. He's General Sir Pentlebury Lesage, and they say he's got enough medals to go twice round his chest if he put them all on at once. Of course he's getting old now, but he's still very wonderful." She lowered her voice again. "Why, he'll drink three bottles of that heavy burgundy to-night, and yet be eating a large breakfast of bacon and eggs to-morrow."

Just at that moment the object of their regard looked in their direction, and catching Croupin's eye, boomed in a deep voice in the lull of the general conversation—

"de Choisy-Hautville, I think I caught your name, sir," and when Croupin bowed, he went on, "Well, nearly thirty years ago I remember a very charming girl in Tours of that name, Madelaine de Choisy-Hautville I think she was!"

Croupin was about to admit she was his mother, when some lightning flash of prudence stilled his tongue, and General Lesage went on. "I heard she afterwards married the Conte de Laine Croupin, and her son was that merry rascal, Raphael."

All eyes were turned at once on Croupin, and on the instant he realised his danger, for he had of course told Angela his own Christian name was Raphael. His knees trembled together, and his mouth grew dry, but his natural delight in being in dangerous situations heartened him, and in a lightning flash his sword was out, and he was defending himself in the boldest way possible.

"A distant relation of mine," he commented smilingly, and with no trace of embarrassment, "and we were both born in Tourain." He seemed very amused. "We have the same Christian names, too, for I was baptised Raphael."

The old General reddened and coughed apologetically. "Well—well, when I said he was a rascal," he began, "I only meant——"

"But he is a rascal," broke in Croupin, laughingly, "or, rather, I should say he was one, for he's supposed to have reformed now, and be leading quite a respectable life."

"Oh! but do tell me in what way he was a rascal, Monsieur?" broke in old Lady Wortleberry in a thin quavering voice. "I do so like to hear about bad people. They are much more interesting than the good ones." Her old eyes twinkled maliciously. "The Lord Bishop here bores me to death."

A ripple of delighted laughter ran round the table, in which the white haired Bishop of Melton Mowbray joined as heartily as any one. Croupin was still the cynosure of all eyes.

"But what did your cousin do?" squeaked Lady Wortleberry. "Did he murder any one?"

"Oh! no. No crimes of violence," smiled Croupin. "Just some little matters of taking things that belonged to other people." He lowered his voice dramatically. "It is supposed that it was he who took that Michaelangelo when it was stolen from the Louvre last year, and sold it afterwards to a millionaire in America, who gave him £40,000 for it. At any rate, that same month an anonymous donor presented £40,000 to the French Government for the hospitals of Paris."

"Bravo! bravo!" called out Sir Charles Carrion enthusiastically. "A fine fellow and I should like to shake him by the hand. I remember all about him now. It was he, too, who took the Duchess of Parterre's diamonds and then gave a great banquet to the poor." He looked round challengingly at the company. "We want men like him over here. The selfish rich have no thought for the privations of their less fortunate fellowmen." He pointed to the half-filled wineglass at his side. "Why the price of one bottle of this burgundy we are all drinking now would provide beer enough to inebriate a dozen honest navvies and give them for a few hours a respite from the monotony of life. I am of opinion——

"Be quiet, Charles," interrupted Lady Rostrellor sharply. "You've always been the black sheep of the family, and no one's interested in anything you say."

"Oh! aren't they?" scoffed Sir Charles in unpleasant amusement. "Well, I was talking for half an hour in the lounge with Lady Wortleberry just before dinner, telling her everything I could remember about you all during the last thirty years, and she's going to put it in her next book." He smiled vindictively. "Aren't you, my lady."

"Yes, I am," squeaked the old dowager again. She spoke thoughtfully. "It mayn't be all true, but"—she nodded vigorously—"it'll make good copy."

The dinner came to an end at last, and then after a couple of uninteresting hands at bridge Croupin managed to get Angela Lendon to himself.

"Let's go into the conservatory," he whispered. "It'll be much nicer there, and we can have a little talk."

"Well, we must not be very long," she replied, as she went quickly with him through the lounge. "We are all supposed to go to bed early tonight, because to-morrow the dancing will go on until three or four o'clock."

They found a secluded spot at the end of the conservatory and there, behind a big palm, seated themselves in a comfortable and well-cushioned settee. There were no lights in the conservatory, but it was a moonlit, though cloudy night, and the lights, too, shone in through from the windows of the drawing-room behind.

There was silence for a few moments after they had settled themselves down and then the girl said softly:—

"Tell me about your relation, Monsieur, this other Raphael. I am very interested in him." She hesitated a moment. "Is he a very bad man?"

"The devil!" thought Croupin. "I may bluff a whole mob, but this child here will not be so easy to deceive." He laughed lightly. "No, Mademoiselle, he was never very bad, just adventurous, and his adventures took the form of avenging himself upon society for a great wrong that had once been done him." His voice hardened. "When he was quite young, he was thrown into prison for taking some jewels he had never touched. Then when he came out, he was bitter and set himself to punish that world that had punished him. He never robbed the poor, but made the very rich his target, and the more closely their possessions were guarded the more delighted was he to try to obtain them."

"But wasn't he caught and put into prison again?" asked Angela.

"No," chuckled Croupin, "for they could never prove that it was he. They thought it was, and in the end every robbery that was committed was supposed to be his. It became at last the joke of France, and when anything was stolen anywhere the people would say, 'See, it's that Croupin again.'"

"But it wasn't right," said the girl thoughtfully. "He was a thief."

"Of course he was," admitted Croupin sadly. His face brightened. "But so much of it was pure devilry." He chuckled again. "Once he stole a magnificent diamond necklace from a great lady. She was hard and miserly and was worth millions, but kept everything she had for herself. Then a few days after the robbery a number of her poor relations each received an anonymous gift of a beautiful big diamond, which they were able to sell for thousands and thousands of francs. She was furious and said the diamonds were hers"—he shrugged his shoulders—"but she could not prove it and there the matter ended. It was a great joke."

"And what was your relation's occupation, Monsieur?" asked Angela. "How did he earn his living?"

"He taught music, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin, "and as a great musician was always in request to play at the nuptial masses when the rich society people were being married."

"And where is he now?" asked the girl.

Croupin swore softly under his breath at her persistence. He shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows, Mademoiselle? He had an inheritance left him, just as I did, and he has disappeared." He sighed. "He may have gone into a monastery."

The conversation drifted off into other ways, and she told him of her own life, of her two brothers and four sisters, of whom she was the youngest, and of her quiet upbringing at the old rectory! How her visits to her godmother had been the only peeps into society she had had, how she was never going to marry, but was intending shortly to start training for a nurse.

Croupin listened quietly and was more assured than ever that at last he had come upon the dream woman of his life.

They talked on, quite oblivious of the flight of time, until suddenly the lights behind them went out and they were plunged in darkness, except for the moon which was now partly obscured by a cloud.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed the girl looking hurriedly at her watch, "it's a quarter to one. They have all gone to bed and we must go, too, at once."

"No, wait just a minute or two," urged Croupin, laying a light, restraining hand upon her arm. "Then no one will see you go up, and for a few moments we can watch those stars." His voice was low and tremulous. "See, how wonderful they are, watching over the sleeping world."

The girl hesitated, but then glancing to where he indicated she sighed deeply and settled herself back again among the cushions. Her conscience bade her go, but the touch of his hand had thrilled her, and the opiate loveliness of the hour held her in its spell. The mystery of life, the mystery of youth, and the mystery of love! That eternal trinity whose secrets will be never told.

Minute after minute passed in complete silence and then just when another cloud was about to cover over the moon they heard the sound of stealthy footsteps at the other end of the conservatory, and turning wide-eyed in consternation, saw a long white hand part the leaves of a big palm-tree there. The owner of the hand was in the shadows and beyond their view.

The girl made a convulsive clutch at Croupin's hand, and then instantly they both bent their bodies down.

"We shan't be noticed," whispered Croupin. "We're in the shadows, too. Keep still. Don't move," and he turned his own hand round so that their fingers met and the clasp was mutual now. He pressed her hand gently.

A minute and longer went slowly by. The strange hand did not move and in their imagination only could they picture the peering face behind.

Then suddenly the moon was blotted out and the whole place was plunged at once in complete darkness. Croupin could feel that Angela was trembling and so he drew her closer to him.

"Oh! How awful if we were seen!" she breathed in the very faintest of whispers. "Do you think whoever it is will go away soon?"

"Of course he will," breathed back Croupin reassuringly, and then as his face touched hers as he had leaned so close to answer, their lips met, too, and he kissed her.

"It wasn't fair to do that," she whispered as she shook her head free, but Croupin had no fear that he had offended her, because she made no attempt to withdraw her hand.

Three or four minutes passed, with the long conservatory as dark and silent as the grave. Then the moon came out again and to their great thankfulness the leaves of the palm were no longer parted, and the hand could be no longer seen.

"Quick!" exclaimed Angela breathlessly, as she rose to her feet, "and pray Heaven we meet nobody."

With the moon only to light them they darted through the deserted dining-room into the hall, encountering no one upon their way and then the girl paused for one moment at the foot of the stairs.

"Good night, Monsieur," she whispered, "You are a bad man and as wicked as the other Raphael." She nodded vigorously. "One thing, I'll never be in the dark with you again."

"Oh! won't you, my little one," whispered back Croupin tenderly. "If it is for me to decide, you will pass unnumbered hours—" but she had tripped up the stairs and afraid to raise his voice, he left the sentence unfinished. "Now, I'll wait two minutes before I go up myself," he murmured. "It is a mercy we have not been seen or heard by any one."

But he was quite mistaken there, for at that very moment one of the under-footmen was standing in the shadows at the back of the hall and watching him.

The man had been sent by the butler to obtain a pack of cards from her ladyship's boudoir, and he had arrived in the hall just in time to see Croupin speaking to some one. He did not, however, see whom the Frenchman was addressing, because the stairs hid the second party from view. He was too far away, also, to hear anything that was being said.

Thinking little of the matter, but not wishing that he himself should be seen, he waited until Croupin had leisurely ascended the stairs, and then fulfilling his mission, returned to the butler's room upstairs, where over a steaming brew of Lord Rostrellor's old brandy the men-servants of the court were now preparing to round off the night with a couple of hands at bridge.

Then it would have appeared to any one watching outside that the great mansion of the Rostrellors was at last sunk in slumber. Its long and massive frontage was dark as if it were untenanted, the lights had died down in its many scores of windows, and it stretched desolate and ghostly under the faints rays of the moon.

The clock in the big hall chimed the quarter, and almost as if they had heard it and were waiting for the signal two figures glided out of the trees and quickly crossing the stretch of beautifully-kept lawn, tip-toed up to the front door.

They were Guildford and Voisin.

"It's open," whispered Guildford as it yielded to the touch of his hand, and in five seconds they were inside the hall and the door was being propped to again with the mat.

Then for a long minute they stood like graven images, making no movement and no sound, and accustoming their eyes to the gloom. The interior of the hall was illuminated faintly by the moonlight that crept through the uncurtained tops of some of the big windows.

"There is the staircase," whispered Guildford, "and you'll wait at the bottom." His voice was menacing in its anxiety. "Listen for every sound, and if you hear the slightest thing that is suspicious, don't lose your head, but come and warn me at once. Remember, I shall be in the third room on the left at the top of the stairs, and I shall leave the door open. If I want you I'll flash my torch and then you come up at once."

And just at that moment the four servants upstairs were cutting for deal.

Guildford mounted the stairs as noiselessly as a cat, but with his heart thumping hard. He tiptoed to the door of Lord and Lady Rostrellor's bedroom, and very, very softly turned the handle.

The door yielded at once, and he entered the room. It was a very large room, and the historic Rostrellor bed was in like proportion, being a huge four-poster with a great sagging canopy overhead. Both the lord and his lady were fast asleep. He was snoring stertorously, and she was joining in, in an asthmatic wheeze. A good fire had been burning, and its dying embers still illuminated the room. A small safe stood in the far corner.

Guildford crept up to the dressing table and with a sigh of intense satisfaction picked up a handful of rings and thrust them into his pocket. Then he advanced towards the safe, and at once he frowned. The safe was locked and the key was not visible. He considered for a moment and then tiptoed up to the bed. Then, holding his breath in his excitement, he very gently began to push his hand under Lady Rostrellor's pillow until, very gradually and with infinite precaution, he had thrust it along its entire length. The old lady felt his arm there and as if annoyed at being disturbed, grimaced irritably, but she did not open her eyes, and continued to wheeze on.

Then Guildford's frown deepened, for he had found nothing there.

He glided back to the dressing table and flashing a little torch, swept it round, but he still came upon no key. Then his eyes glinted and his hand darted forward, as he noticed that a big cold cream jar there was standing unevenly, with one side higher than the other. He snatched it up and then, with a gesture of contempt, picked up a small key from underneath.

And at that very moment the four men upstairs, after three misdeals, had found that there was two cards missing, and the young footman was being sworn at and told to go down and get another pack.

With success so near now, Guildford's movements were like lightning. The safe was opened in a trice and jewel case after jewel case was emptied and their contents thrust into his pockets.

Diamonds, emeralds, pearls, a necklace alone worth thousands of pounds! His eyes burned like red-hot coals! It was a fortune!

Quickly replacing each jewel-case back into the safe, he locked it and with a sardonic smile restored the key to its place under the cold-cream jar, then—his blood froze in horror, for a resounding yell came up from the hall below.

"Help, help," roared a lusty voice. "Help, quick, there are burglars here," and oaths and bumps and sounds of a fierce struggle came up upon the air.

Guildford ejaculated one furious curse and then sprang into action. He was out of the bedroom, along the corridor, and down the stairs with the speed of a greyhound, to find Voisin prone upon his back in the hall, with the young footman holding him down and pummelling him violently.

Guildford, coming up behind, swung his right arm in a fearful blow at the side of the footman's head, and the latter rolled over like a stunned ox. Then he jerked Voisin to his feet. "Come on now, you idiot," he panted. "Why didn't you see him in time?" and cursing furiously, he proceeded to drag the tottering and half-dazed barber towards the hall door.

But long before they could reach it, with a sickening feeling in his stomach he realised that it would be only with great good fortune now, that they would get away unhindered, for the butler and the two other footmen came tearing through the hall, shouting loudly and calling for help from those upstairs.

Guildford turned savagely, and faced them like a snarling beast of the jungle.

"Keep back, you fools," he shouted, "or you're dead men all of you," and snatching an automatic from his hip-pocket, he pointed it menacingly at them.

The butler was elderly and married, and stopped dead in his tracks, so did one of the footmen, but the other, who had served in the Great War, continued to rush forward as if he had not heard the warning.

Guildford's face was of an ashen colour, but he smiled a dreadful smile, and waiting until the man was within five paces of him, deliberately pulled the trigger and shot him through the heart.

Gasps of horror came from the other two as their fellow-servant crashed on to the floor, and taking advantage of their consternation, Guildford, still, however, having to drag Voisin along with him, passed through the front door and banged it behind him.

Then commenced an agonising journey for the two malefactors, Guildford in an agony of mind, and Voisin in an agony of body. In the struggle at the foot of the stairs, the barber had received a violent blow in the stomach, and in addition to that, one of his legs had been twisted and bent back under him. His face was corpse-like in its whiteness and covered in profuse sweat.

"I can't walk," he wailed, "I can't go on."

"You'll have to," snarled Guildford. "Pull yourself together, like a man. It'll mean a life sentence if they get you." Then seeing that Voisin was tottering and actually about to fall, with a savage curse he bent down and tugging him on to his shoulder, with staggering and unsteady steps made for the trees upon the other side of the lawn.

He gained the shelter of the trees and then bumped Voisin roughly down.

"Come on now by yourself," he panted to the barber who seemed only just able to stand. "We must run for it, and I can't carry you any farther."

Then all suddenly he fell headlong over Guildford's dragging arm, and tumbling to the ground almost brought him down with him. He had at last fainted right away.

Guildford's breath came in quick, spasmodic gasps, and for the moment he was bereft of oaths in his dismay. They were not a quarter of a mile from the Court, and had yet nearly a mile and a half to go before they would be in hiding, and—he had now an inert man of 160 odd pounds to drag behind him.

His fury blazed up again, and he bent down and shook viciously at the barber. "Wake up, you cursed idiot. I am not going to swing for you." Then as there was not the slightest response to all his shaking, he straightened himself up with a quick decisive movement, and glaring round intently in every direction, began muttering deeply. His mouth had become very dry, and he moistened his lips shakingly with his tongue.

A dense black cloud was about to impinge itself upon the moon.

He was standing in the corner of a large field, and there was a plantation of small trees just behind him. A tall hedge lay to one side, and a shallow muddy ditch upon the other.

His breath was now as laboured as if he were in the act of running. He gave another intent glance round, and then knelt down by the barber's side.

Some six or seven minutes later the moon had emerged again, and it shone upon Guildford, who was now half a mile and more away from the spot where he had been when it had gone in.

He was alone and running swiftly towards the most dangerous point in his journey, where he would have to cross over the Keston Road in full sight of anyone who might be watching from the upper windows of either of the two houses there.

The contents of all Voisin's pockets, including a packet of black-tobaccoed cigarettes, were now in his own, but that would be of no interest to their late possessor, for the barber of Rent Street would never smoke again.

In the meantime, the happenings had been so tragic that for the moment everyone at Rostrellor Court seemed to have lost their heads, and Pandemonium raged. Doors had been opened noisily, there had been loud shoutings for explanation, people had come tearing down the stairs, the lights had been switched on everywhere, and a rush had been made to render first aid to the injured footmen.

But it was found at once that the elder one was beyond all help, and Sir Charles Carrion pronounced solemnly that his death must have been instantaneous for he had been shot through the heart. The other footman, after a quick examination, appeared not to have been much hurt, and Sir Charles said he would probably be conscious again in a few minutes.

Then the butler gasped out what had happened. Two strange men, he told every one, had been found in the hall, and in an attempt to seize them they had first stunned William and then shot Henry. They had escaped then by the front door.

Sir Charles then had at once assumed command, and vetoed most emphatically the suggestion that weapons should be obtained from the gun room and a search made through the grounds with no delay.

"That will be fool's-play," he scoffed contemptuously, "for of course they came and went in a car. They will be a couple of miles away by now." He turned to the shaking butler. "Ring up the Croydon police," he thundered, "and the flying-squads will be upon the roads within five minutes and all cars going in any direction held up and searched. That's our only chance." He seemed to have become 20 years younger in his animation. "Now, the next thing is to find out if they got away with any plunder. Any one seen my uncle?"

And then it was remembered with pangs of horror that neither the lord nor the lady of the Court had been seen by any one or appeared to have been awakened by the noise.

"And perhaps they have been murdered in their beds!" squeaked old Lady Wortleberry, who, attired in a gown of most dreadful hue, was peering through the banisters above. "Oh! what a national calamity if the Rostrellor diamonds have gone."

A rush was at once made upstairs to Lady Rostrellor's bedroom. The door was found to be wide open, but reassuring sounds came from inside the chamber, for Lord Rostrellor could be heard snoring in loud trumpet tones and the wheezing breathing of her ladyship, too, was distinctly audible in the respectful hush about the chamber door.

With difficulty the pair were awakened and made to understand that burglars had been visiting the Court. Lady Rostrellor promptly screamed, but upon pointing to the jar of cold cream, and it being lifted up and the key of the safe being seen by her to be still there, she sank back again into the pillows and subsided into convulsive sobs. Lord Rostrellor contented himself with shouting loudly for brandy to be brought up.

Then suddenly a tremendous boom was heard below, a blinding sheet of flame lit up all the windows and then a dreadful moment's silence was followed by the sounds of a cascade of falling glass.

"Downstairs, every one!" roared Sir Charles Carrion in stentorian tones, and literally dancing in his excitement. "It's 'The Terror' and they've blown up the conservatory with a bomb."


CHAPTER XI.—"IN THE SHADOW OF THE SCAFFOLD."

The morning following upon the dinner party at Rostrellor Court, a few minutes after seven, Larose was dressing himself quickly in his lodgings in Pimlico. He had a busy day before him and was hoping, and indeed expecting, it was going to be one of great triumph for him as well.

He was motoring straightaway down to Canvey Island, to learn there at first hand all he could about the undoubted murder of the solicitor, Clutterbuck, as evidenced by the latter's sudden disappearance from all human ken and the trails of blood that had been left behind.

He was intending to return to the city as early as possible in the afternoon, and was hoping then to throw another bomb into the well-ordered, but very difficult-to-be-convinced, mind of the Chief Commissioner of Police.

"He still won't believe me about this Sheldon-Brown," he muttered with a grim smile, "so I'll just put him wise as to the character of one of that gentleman's nice associates, with whom Brown must have been pretty familiar to have been flashing those bonds-to-bearer before him, as we know he did."

He was just in the act of lathering his face, when he heard the telephone ring in the hall below, and a few seconds later his ex-policeman landlord tapped at the door and called out that a lady wanted to speak to him at once.

"It's the wife, of course," thought Larose, hurriedly wiping the lather from his face—his heart gave a big thump—"but why has she rung up so early? I hope to heaven, nothing has happened down there!"

But it did not prove to be Mrs. Larose who was ringing; it was a voice he did not remember which greeted him directly he announced that he was there.

"I'm Miss Lendon," it came in quick and agitated tones, "and we met at Mrs. Fox-Drummond's, at Surbiton, just over a week ago, when you stayed to lunch there."

"Oh! I remember you," replied Larose at once. "Well, what can I do for you, Miss Lendon?"

"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville wants you to come here to him at once," replied Angela breathlessly. "I'm speaking from Rostrellor Court, in Addington, near Croydon. A terrible calamity has happened during the night. The house has been broken into, one of the servants murdered, the conservatory blown up with a bomb, and now it's been discovered all Lady Rostrellor's diamonds have been taken."

"Good heavens!" ejaculated Larose in consternation, "and was Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville hurt?"

"No, he's quite all right," replied Angela. "I said it was one of the servants who had been killed."

"But how is it that my friend is staying at Rostrellor Court?" asked Larose, very puzzled. "He never said anything to me about it."

"No, because no one had even thought about it until yesterday at lunch-time," replied the girl, "and then, to oblige, Mrs. Fox-Drummond he agreed to come here with us just for the one night, as there was a gentleman short for the big dinner-party."

"Then why is it he isn't ringing me up himself?" asked Larose.

"I can't tell you why," replied the girl quickly, "and I don't understand it myself. I've not seen him since last night, and all I know is that he pushed a note under my bedroom door not five minutes ago, asking me to ring you up to come at once, and not tell anyone he'd sent for you. He marked the note urgent." Her voice betrayed her anxiety. "Now you will come, won't you?"

"Certainly, I will," replied Larose instantly. "I'll be out in less than an hour. But one thing more," he added, as she thanked him and was preparing to ring off, "you've got the police up there, of course."

"Oh, yes, the Croydon ones were here almost at once," she replied, "and others have been coming during the night. They say the heads of Scotland Yard, too, will be here before 9 o'clock,"—she seemed very frightened—"and orders have been given that none of us are to leave the house, because it is thought it was opened to the burglars by some one here inside."

"All right," exclaimed Larose cheerfully. "I'll be with you as soon as I can."

"Now, what the devil does all this mean?" he asked, frowningly as he hung up the receiver. "Have the police by any chance tumbled to whom de Choisy-Hautville is?" He looked most uneasy for a moment and then his face cleared. "No, no, he's had nothing to do with the taking of the diamonds. I can trust Croupin as I would myself now." He gave a low whistle. "But that bomb! It must be the work of the same gang, and what a coincidence that Croupin has got in touch with them again!"

Well within the time specified he drove up to Rostrellor Court. The front door was standing wide open and, springing from his car, he was just about to explain to the uniformed constable who was in charge there whom he was, when he saw Detective-Inspector Reynolds from Scotland yard, whom he knew well, just inside the hall.

"Good-morning, Inspector," he called out, "then we are all early birds this morning."

The inspector at once came forward to shake hands, but at the same time it seemed to Larose that he did not look too pleased. "How is it you have come here, Mr. Larose?" he asked sharply. "Has the Chief sent you down to look after us?"

"Certainly not!" replied Larose, shaking his head. "I haven't had any communication with him for a couple of days, but hearing there had been an explosion, I thought I'd run down and pay you all a flying visit."

"But how then did you come to know anything about it?" asked the inspector, looking rather puzzled. "There's nothing in the newspapers as yet."

Larose laughed lightly. "Oh! I have my own sources of information, Inspector," he replied, "and just now anything to do with bombs interests me." His face became serious. "Found out anything yet?"

"Yes," grunted the inspector, leading Larose into a small room just off the hall, "quite a lot. For one thing, someone inside the house opened the front door for the burglars, and they came in like more invited guests." He nodded with a grim smile. "But we've got one gay gentleman under close observation, one of the blessed dinner-party, too, and there are some things about him that are mighty suspicious. He was seen here in the hall only a few minutes before the rumpus occurred, and can't give me a satisfactory explanation. He's a damned foreigner with a jaw-breaking name."

Larose suppressed a start. He thought he could understand Angela's phoning up now. "What's his name?" he asked carelessly.

"de Chossy Hoveal, or something like that," replied the inspector. "He's a bird with fine feathers, and I feel darned sure"—but seeing the amazed expression upon Larose's face, he stopped suddenly and asked with a frown. "What's up?"

"Great Jupiter!" exclaimed Larose in apparent consternation, "why, if it's the de Choisy-Hautville I know, he's just been working for the Yard himself." He spoke very quickly. "What's he like? A very good-looking man slightly built, with very dark eyes?"

"That's him," growled the inspector, "almost as pretty as a girl. But I tell you——"

"Man!" interrupted Larose quickly, "he's a great friend of mine and as good as gold. Up to a few days ago, he was working in the slums of Limehouse for me, and looking like a scarecrow, trailing one of the men wanted for all those murders. To-day we are going to make a first arrest, and this afternoon the chief will probably be shaking my friend by the hand, because it is thanks to him that we shall have got the man."

"I don't care a curse about that," said the inspector doggedly. "I'm in charge here and his answers to my questions are not satisfactory. I've made some other inquiries about him, too, outside, and they're not too good, either, I can tell you." He looked as stubborn as a mule. "I believe he had some part in the stealing of these jewels."

"Gosh!" ejaculated Larose, "de Choisy-Hautville stealing anything! Why, he's as rich as a nabob and could probably buy up Lord Rostrellor here. He's got a suite of rooms at the Savoy!"

"So he told me," said the inspector drily, "and I've just been ringing up there and learnt quite a lot of things." His face assumed a most determined expression. "Nothing alters the fact that the explanation of his movements here are not satisfactory."

"Well, where is he now?" asked Larose quietly. "Have you put him under arrest?"

"Almost," replied the inspector. "I've got him in a room by himself and he's not allowed to go out"—he set his jaw and looked defiantly at Larose—"and he's not going out either, whether he's a friend of yours or anybody else's, until he has satisfied me as to why he was in the hall at five minutes past one this morning, not a quarter of an hour before those burglars were discovered here."

"Very well, then, bring him in here, Inspector," said Larose quietly, "and I'll make him explain everything."

So two minutes later Croupin was being ushered into the room, to be received with a scowl by the inspector and a smile by Larose.

"Good morning, Monsieur," grinned Larose. "I understand you are in trouble."

Croupin, looking very solemn, shook hands with Larose, with no answering expression of amusement, however, upon his handsome face.

"Yes," he nodded, "it pleases this gentleman not to believe what I say."

"And I don't believe it," commented the inspector emphatically. "That footman saw you talking to some one in the hall just before those men were found inside, and you deny it." His tone was most uncompromising. "I am of opinion that you had just opened the door to your friends, and were keeping watch for them while they went upstairs."

"Tell us what happened, Monsieur," said Larose. "You'll have to explain," and then, as Croupin hesitated, he added quickly. "Come, now, I've told the inspector here you are my friend, and you're not going to discredit me. Is it true you were not speaking to any one?"

Croupin spoke very slowly. "There are some occasions, Monsieur," he replied, "'when a falsehood is more honourable than the truth."

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Larose, now all smiles, "then tell Inspector Reynolds who the lady was, and I'll promise you for him that it won't go any further. Make a clean breast of it to us."

Croupin gave a great sigh, but seeing that there was no help for it explained frankly what had happened. He had been sitting in the conservatory, he said, talking to a lady, and they had not noticed how time was flying until suddenly the lights had gone out in the drawing-room behind them, and they were astounded to realise that it was a quarter to one. Then not wishing to occasion any scandal by encountering any of the servants, they had waited a few minutes longer, until there should be no one about. Then at the foot of the staircase, he had bade the young lady good-night and waited yet another two minutes, until she had ascended the staircase alone and gained the privacy of her own room.

The face of the inspector had lost a little of its sternness and then, almost as if he were himself now suppressing a grin, he asked drily: "And will the young lady be prepared to corroborate this story, when I question her?"

"She would," replied Croupin with dignity. "If I had given you her name."

"I don't want it," snapped the inspector, "for I know she was Miss Angela Lendon"—he looked triumphantly at Larose—"and at 7.25 this morning she rang up Pimlico 3908 to summon your friend here to get you out of the mess." He looked down at a paper in his hand. "She is the only woman who has 'phoned from here this morning."

Larose laughed merrily. "Excellent! excellent! Mr. Inspector," he exclaimed, "and with men like you at the Yard, there was never any need for any one to have asked me to come back." His face glowed. "I take off my hat to you, sir."

For the moment, the expression of praise from such a quarter caused the face of the inspector to redden with pleasure, but then almost instantly it grew hard and grim again.

"But there are other things I want to know about this gentleman," he said sharply. "He told me he has a suite of rooms at the Savoy, and I have verified that, but"—and his voice was very stern—"how is it he has been staying at the Semiris for four days under an assumed name? No, no," he went on to Croupin, noticing the latter's look of discomforted chagrin, "it's no good your denying it, for a chambermaid from the Savoy recognised you. You have been staying at the Semiris under the name of a Monsieur de Bearne, and the Savoy people are now aware of it, too."

Larose burst into a hearty laugh. "Another bull's eye, Inspector," he laughed, "for this de Bearne has been acting as a decoy there for what may probably turn out to be one of the biggest receivers that the Yard has laid hands upon for many a day"—he made a grimace at Croupin—"but I see I'll have to go round to the Savoy people and explain things a bit, or they'll be asking you to vacate that nice suite of yours straightaway."

They chatted on for a few minutes and then the inspector with a mock sigh of resignation, turned to Croupin.

"You're free, Monsieur," he said, "and I admit I'm darned sorry for it." He smiled. "I heard that footman's story, and now"—he shrugged his shoulders—"I'm afraid there's nothing in it."

To the evident relief of the inspector, Larose said he must be going at once, and Croupin accompanied him to his car to see him off. "Thank you, Monsieur," said the Frenchman gratefully. "You got me out of a very awkward situation and there will be no scandal." His eyes sparkled. "But see here, Meester Larose, I think this is the work of the gang, for that explosion was so senseless after the diamonds had been stolen. They could have expected to gain nothing by it, except the terrifying of everyone."

"I agree," said Larose promptly, "but I'm not interfering here, for the good reason I've got quite enough on my hands to-day: I can't be everywhere."

"But one moment," said Croupin as Larose was about to start up his engine. "There's no doubt they had an accomplice inside who let them come in and I think I know who he is," and then very rapidly he told of the hand he and Angela had seen parting the palm leaves in the conservatory. "But that is not all," he added mysteriously, "for when one of the guests here, a doctor of renown, was bending over the footman who had been shot and opening his vest, it came upon me in a flash that he had the same long, white hand." He nodded emphatically. "I am almost sure of it."

"And who is this doctor, then?" asked Larose, all eyes and interest.

"A Sir Charles Carrion," replied Croupin, "and Lady Rostrellor is his aunt."

"Then it's impossible," said Larose. "That makes it so at once."

"Not at all," went on Croupin, "for he's a most eccentric man, and they say he has been put in an asylum once. He seems delighted about all this trouble here, and although he says how dreadful it is he keeps on chuckling and rubbing his hands. When the bomb exploded last night, of course everyone was terrified, but he made things much worse by shouting out 'The Terror! The Terror!' and warning us all that another bomb might be exploding any moment. He didn't, however, seem at all frightened himself. I tell you——" but he suddenly gripped Larose tightly by the arm—"Look out, here he comes, and that man he is laughing with is one of the detectives. Don't let him see we are noticing him. He is the tall man with the dreadful face."

Larose turned his head slightly, and out of the tail of his eye regarded the man indicated.

"Hum!" he remarked when the two had passed round the side of the house, "we must go into this, Monsieur, you and I. I must manage to get in touch with him in some way." He paused for a moment. "He looks very ill. Is he practising, do you know?"

"Oh! yes," replied Croupin, "for I heard him telling the superintendent for Croydon that he must be back at his consulting room in town by two this afternoon."

"Then get friendly with him," said Larose, "as friendly as possible in the time, and tell him you know someone who's had"—he thought for a moment—"who's had trouble in his stomach, and you may be sending him along one day for a consultation. See! that will pave the way for me to go and have a close up view of him, without awakening any suspicion when he finds there is nothing the matter with me."

"Bien!" nodded Croupin. "I understand," and with a wave of his hand Larose disappeared up the drive.

In the meantime Guildford had passed a very disturbed and troubled night, or rather that part of the night that had still remained after he had got back to the bungalow upon the lake-side. He was sure no one could have been an observer of his return, and for awhile had been thrilled into ecstasy and forgetfulness by the jewels he had poured out upon a sheet of newspaper upon the floor. He had chosen the floor instead of the table, so that no glimmer of light should show outside.

He had not dared to make use of any lamp, although he had taken the paraffin one off the shelf and was in the act of lighting it when he had thought suddenly what curiosity it would excite in any one seeing it at that time of the night. If by any chance they came to pass near, and so it was by the light of his torch only that he had examined the booty he had acquired. Never had he seen such riches before, and of a disposition in which sound common sense predominated, he then and there formed the resolution that this should be his last adventure in unlawful ways, and he would now clear out of the country as soon as possible.

He drank half a tumbler of neat brandy and ate some sandwiches with good appetite, all the while going carefully over in his mind his plans for the morrow. He would tempt fortune no more he told himself, and would leave the bungalow as speedily as possible. It would be downright folly to wait the few days as Sir Charles Carrion had suggested, for the body of Voisin was now adding to his dangers, and if anyone came upon it, it would be suggestive as to which way he had taken in his hurried flight from the Court, and might also put into people's minds the idea that he had not escaped in a car.

He threw himself upon one of the beds, hoping he might obtain a few hours' sleep, but for a long time he slept only in fitful snatches, awakening many times to see if the dawn had really come. Then, when at last the sun rose, it did so above a heavy pall of fog, and, his sleep deepening, it was not finally until nearly nine o'clock that he awoke to curse furiously that the hour was so late. He did not wonder, however, that he had slept on, for the light in the house, even now, was very shadowy and dim.

He started hurriedly, but with extreme care and method, to make all preparations for his departure. He put on a pair of woollen gloves, and then, with a duster, wiped over everywhere he thought either he or Voisin had left any finger marks, the two glasses, the two plates and knives and forks they had used at supper, the handles and panels of the doors, and every place where he imagined their hands could have touched. Then, having tidied up everything and left the bungalow, he thought, exactly as they had found it, he drove his car out of the garage, and in quite a confident and cheerful frame of mind he started for town.

He went by way of Hayes and West Wickham and met plenty of traffic, but no one stopped him, and finally he arrived home soon after 11 o'clock. He was now assured that all danger was over and that no one would ever know he had been anywhere near Rostrellor Court that night.

Guildford's blood would have frozen in terror if he had been aware of exactly what was happening at that very moment in the bungalow upon the lakeside.

The police were in possession, and with every bit as much care as he had taken and with equal method and precision, half a dozen grim-faced men, the most acute brains in Scotland Yard, were endeavouring to find out something about the two individuals who had been staying there the previous night. He had only just escaped in time.

It had happened in this way:

In their headlong flight from Rostrellor Court, Guildford had urged furiously upon the barber that the danger point of their journey lay at that spot where they had to cross over the Keston Road, close near to the two houses. All the rest of the way they were under cover, either in the thick woods or else beside the high hedges of fields that no one was likely to be frequenting at night. But on this road there was no cover, and it was always possible they might be seen.

And Guildford had been quite right. Not only was there the danger there, but he had run straight into it, for during many hours of that night a watcher had sat before an upper window of one of the two houses Guildford was so fearing, and had moreover seen the two men set out, and then later only the one return.

The watcher was the local doctor of Farnborough, and he was waiting upon a patient who was expecting one of the most thrilling adventures of her life—her first gift to human kind. The doctor had been sitting idly before the window, hoping every minute to receive the summons.

Then suddenly he had noticed two men running quickly across the road from wood to wood, appearing from the depths of one to disappear into the depths of another.

"Poachers!" he told himself, "and after old Colonel Roach's pheasants! Good! Then I'll ring him up about it to-morrow, and then perhaps he'll remember to pay his little bill."

He had looked at the time and seen it was half-past twelve. Then, his vigil being prolonged, about twenty minutes to two he had heard a muffled bang in the distance as if three or four guns had been discharged at the same time, and about a quarter of an hour later he had seen the one man literally fly across the road and disappear into the opposite wood.

He had thought everything very suspicious, but then at that moment the stork at last dropping a lusty squealing infant down the chimney, he had been kept busy for some time and later feeling dead sleepy, and thinking only of getting back to his bed, he had for the time being dismissed the whole matter from his mind.

But it had all been recalled with great suddenness the next morning, when upon starting upon his rounds he had been stopped by the village policeman, who had poured into his ears a lurid and exciting story of what had been happening at Rostrellor Court. Then he in turn had told his story, and the policeman, rushing to the telephone, a quarter of an hour later the busy medico was being chased up hill and down dale, all over the countryside, by a car filled with the crack trailers of Scotland Yard.

In possession of all the facts, the detectives had at once made a beeline for the wood into which the one man had disappeared, and following a well-defined track, they had come speedily to the lonely bungalow upon the lake-side.

It was shut up and apparently unoccupied, but they saw at once from the markings in the ground, that a car had but recently left the garage, and so, with no hesitation, they forced an entry into the bungalow itself.

Then instantly they came upon a most damning piece of evidence—a diamond ring, close to the leg of the table in the kitchen!

That was Guildford's first mistake, and it was going to prove a very costly one for him.

But it was easy to understand how it had occurred. He had been so anxious to examine his booty, the very moment he had got back to the bungalow, and hurriedly emptying his pockets upon the sheet of newspaper upon the floor and using only his electric torch with its small and circumscribed area of light, he had not noticed the rolling away of one of the rings into the shadows cast by the table leg.

The detectives were overjoyed at their discovery, and like bloodhounds nosed about for a further trail. It was finger-marks they wanted, for a big burglary like that at Rostrellor Court, they told themselves, had not been carried out by novices at the game, but by experienced criminals who had been at the same kind of work before.

So they proceeded to go over the bungalow, inch by inch, and were soon nodding significantly to one another when not a single recent finger mark could be found anywhere. Neither upon the tumblers, nor upon the handles of the knives and forks, nor upon the dresser doors, nor upon any of the cupboards or chairs.

"Old lags," snarled Detective Inspector Reynolds angrily, "and they cleaned up everywhere with gloved hands before they went away."

But they were quite certain two men had been staying at the bungalow, for two tumblers on the dresser were cleaner and more polished than the rest, and it was the same with two cups and saucers, and two plates upon the rack.

Then to their great joy they came upon Guildford's second mistake, a set of beautifully defined oily finger-marks upon the under surface of the sheet of newspaper that had been spread so tidily upon the kitchen table by some former tenants. The paper had obviously been used by them to save the table from contact with hot saucepans and pans, and it was the same sheet that Guildford had picked up when he had poured out the jewels upon the floor, just after he had replaced the paraffin lamp upon the shelf.

The finger-marks were undoubtedly so recent that a whoop of delight came up from the detectives when they were discovered, and another exclamation of joy came when a few minutes later finger marks upon one of the cupboard-doors in a bedroom were seen also. Voisin had been more curious than Guildford, and unknown to the latter, had had a look all round the bungalow.

So photographs were at once taken, and together with the sheet of newspaper hurried up to Scotland Yard. Thus, when about four o'clock that afternoon Larose appeared up at the Yard to interview the Chief Commissioner, he found that very interested gentleman in earnest conversation with one of the officials from the finger-print department.

"Ah!" exclaimed the Commissioner delightedly, "the very man I want." He dismissed the finger-print expert and then asked sharply: "Now what does it mean, sir, that you were here yesterday with some finger marks that proved to be those of a convict, Sabine Guildford, who was released on ticket-of-leave ten and a half years ago?"

Larose looked the picture of astonishment, but he recovered himself quickly and replied at once: "I was interested in them, sir," he smiled dryly, "as those of an associate of that Mr. Sheldon-Brown, and as a matter of fact have come here now——"

"But, good God! man," broke in the Commissioner, "do you know where he is?"

"Certainly," replied Larose, "and as I was just going to say, if you want him——"

But the Commissioner could not contain himself in his excitement. "If we want him!" he almost shouted, interrupting again. "Why, he is one of two men who got in Rostrellor Court last night, and getting away with I don't know how many thousand pounds of jewellery, killed a footman who tried to stop him. Apart from these fingerprints, too, some of the other servants furnish a description that tallies exactly with how he would look today." He dropped his voice to even tones, and forcing his lips into a smile, asked quietly: "Where is he, then, Mr. Larose?"

Larose was astonished beyond measure at the Commissioner's news, and then at once his heart gave a great bound of delight. Things could not be better, he told himself, for now they could arrest Guildford on this later charge, and then the other members of the gang would not be warned that anything had been found out about any of them in relation to their crimes of dreadful vengeance.

He replied quickly to the Commissioner. "Sabine Guildford is now an estate agent in Mile End," he said, "and he goes under the name of Edward Mason." He smiled in amusement. "The Yard has been shadowing him for me for over a week now and he could have been arrested any moment had we wished, for he is a burglar, a receiver of stolen goods, and"—he paused a long moment here, and then went on very sternly—"as an associate of Sheldon-Brown, the undoubted murderer of Samuel Wiggins, the tea-broker, and of Anthony Clutterbuck, the solicitor." His voice vibrated as he threw down his trump card. "He is another member of 'The Terror Gang.'"

And then in ample detail he related all that had happened during the past few days, by no means slurring over the part Croupin had taken in getting in touch with Voisin and Guildford and obtaining their finger-prints.

When he had finished, the Commissioner after a few words of ungrudging praise, in turn related all that had happened at the bungalow by the Kestor lakes and how fortunate they had been in picking up the trail so soon.

"Now, Mr. Larose," he said in conclusion, "as you say, we can arrest this Sabine Guildford at once upon this charge, and so give no specific warning to the other members of the gang, whoever they may be." He looked rather troubled. "But how do you suggest we do it, for he is a dangerous man and very ready with his gun, and naturally I am thinking of our men."

"And he is suspicious, too," added Larose, "for he's dodged us every time when we were trying to follow him. He got away yesterday, and we couldn't tell where he had gone."

"But he must be taken at once," went on the Commissioner, "for to all accounts, he's got hold of a good £80,000 this time, and that's enough to make any man get out of business for good. He may try and bolt straightaway."

"Yes," agreed Larose, "and the devil of it is we are certain he's got one exit into that back street, and I'm half inclined to believe he's got several." He considered for a moment, "But I've got an idea how we can do it."

* * * *

Guildford had been in a great state of exultation since he had returned home. Things could not have gone better. He was in possession or valuables that he reckoned he could dispose of abroad for about £50,000, and he had got rid of Voisin, who could have been an awkward witness, and moreover, would have wanted a good sum as his share.

He treated himself to a pint bottle of champagne for his lunch, and then gave orders he was not to be disturbed for a couple of hours as he was not feeling well and was going to lie down.

And certainly he was very tired, for he dropped off to sleep within a few minutes and slept soundly until just before five o'clock, when he was awakened by loud shouting in the street below, and jumping hurriedly off the bed to find out what had happened, was greatly relieved to see from the window which faced the street, that it was only a lorry that had broken down. One of the wheels had come off just opposite his office and, of course, the usual crowd of idlers had at once gathered round.

For a few minutes he watched them jacking up the lorry, but was then interrupted by a knocking at the door. It was his housekeeper, and one of the clerks, she announced, wanted to speak to him with no delay.

He went down at once to his private room and was then informed that a man wanted to see him, with a message from some one called Flick, about a key that he had ordered to be made.

Guildford's heart began to palpitate at once. "What's the man like?" he asked with a deep frown.

The clerk smiled. "Well, he's a rough looking customer, sir," he replied, "and he's not too sober, either. He's carrying two large bundles of celery, and he's dropped them several times upon the floor."

"Tell him I'm busy," growled Guildford, "and ask him to send in the message."

The clerk retired at once, and obeying his instructions, was met with a blunt refusal from the man with the celery and thick voice.

"No, I'll not give the message to you," insisted that individual pugnaciously. "I was told only to give it to Mr. Mason, and it'd be worth a couple of bob to me if I did. I've got a bit of a letter, too," he added, as if he was now remembering it for the first time. His voice was thicker than ever. "So you tell old Mason to come here at once."

Guildford was looking through the chink of the office door, and watching the speaker. All he saw was a grubby-faced man, leaning against the counter, in the usual lordly way of the slightly intoxicated, and clutching tightly to two big bundles of celery.

He strode quickly into the office and advanced towards the stranger. "I'm Mr. Mason," he announced sternly, "and now, what's your message."

The man blinked stupidly at him. "Ugly and cross-looking," he muttered as if to himself, "and looks a man who'd fight anyone." He brightened up at once. "Yes, that's you," he said. "You're Mr. Mason." He put the two bundles of celery under one arm, and then with the hand of the other fumbled in his jacket pocket for the letter. He found it at last. "Here you are," he grunted, "and the message is inside."

But he suddenly drew back the hand that was proffering the letter. "Two bob, first," he said stubbornly. "I've not come all this distance for nothing, and boot-leather costs money."

With a scowl of annoyance, but rather uneasy that Alf Flick should be communicating with him at all, and anxious to read what was in the letter, Guildford thrust his right hand into his trouser pocket for the two shillings and then—the astounding thing happened.

The seemingly intoxicated man in the twinkling of an eye flung the celery straight into Guildford's face and then, like a flash of lightning, he sprang forward and pinning the estate-agent's arms to his side, tripped him violently on to the floor. At the same time, with a clarion voice he trumpeted: "Come in, quick. I've got him."

One of the clerks jumped instantly to the rescue of his master, and gripped the assailant by the throat, but half a dozen men who had been standing outside and apparently idly watching the stranded lorry, burst into the office, and, quicker than it takes to tell, the clerk had been hurled away, and Guildford handcuffed and jerked on to his feet.

"Are you hurt, Mr. Larose?" asked one of the men of the owner of the celery.

"Not a bit," replied Larose. He turned to the clerk who had handled him so roughly. "Here, young fellow," he said with a smile, as he started to rub his neck, "you can have these sticks of celery for your pluck. You are a brave chap, and did the right thing in trying to protect your master."

Guildford's face was ashen grey, and he heaved out his breaths in quick jerks. "I thought you'd be in it," he gasped, "but if I'd been sure five seconds earlier, you'd have had a bullet through your head."

"He's got a gun," said one of the men, tugging an automatic pistol from Guildford's hip pocket. "I'm Inspector Reynolds," he added, turning to the handcuffed man, "and I arrest you for the murder of Henry Ashby, of Rostrellor Court. I warn you that anything you say may be used as evidence against you."

"You big fool!" sneered Guildford. "I'm not going to say anything, and you can hold your tongue as well," and two minutes later the estate agent of Mile End had bidden good-bye to his office for ever.

That night Ah Chung said to his relation, "There will be changes here now, Ho Ling, and we will go quickly. That Mr. Mason has been taken by the police to-day. He has stolen jewels from a great lord and he killed a servant there. He will be hanged soon."

"Thou art wonderful, O, Ah Chung," said Ho Ling, "for so quickly thou learnest everything."

"This morning I went into Voisin's," droned on Ah Chung, "and made a search there. He was a careful man and I found £204 in a box under the floor. It will pay for our journey to our country. He will not need it, for he is dead."

"The dead have no want of meat or drink," commented Ho Ling solemnly, "for the earth and the waters are their home."

"The police came into his house to-night," went on Ah Chung, "and it was well that I had shut the secret door. But I saw, and I listened, and they told strange tales. They said Voisin's hands had been tied behind him, and he was suffocated in the mud of a ditch. He had been with Mr. Mason to the lord's house and been hurt, and he could not run. They said Mr. Mason had killed him."

"Death is all peace and rest," said Ho Ling softly, "and so Voisin will labour and be weary no more."

"To-morrow I shall go to Mr. Brown or Sir Carrion," said Ah Chung, "and ask for our reward. We shall keep silent tongues and they will give us £1000. Then we will destroy that pit for the rats and break up all those cages, so that nothing will be here if the police come." He waved his hand to his relation. "Thy dreams be happy ones, O, Ho Ling, for in another moon we shall be among the waters of our home," and with a bow of profound obedience and respect, Ho Ling glided from the room.


CHAPTER XII.—THE REJUVENATION OF AH CHUNG.

About seven o'clock upon the morning following the arrest of Guildford, Sir Charles Carrion was seated at his desk. He looked haggard and worn. He was writing upon a large sheet of paper in rather crabbed handwriting.

"Life itself is the great mystery of life. We come we know not where, and we go we know not whither, and in our dreaming only are we certain of what lies beyond."

He put down his pen, and looking up murmured meditatively. "Yes, in all times Death has held to its dark secret, and it is in the grave only that it whispers out its tale." He grinned. "Mr. Sabine Guildford will be soon listening to it, for he will swing for the murder of that footman right enough." He sighed. "And I shall hear it, too, in months, weeks—it may be almost in a few days, for I am very ill." He puckered up his brows. "Funny that we four are bachelors, Guildford, Bascoigne, Libbeus, and I myself!"

He was silent for a moment, and then continued his train of thought. "Now I wonder if any of us would have been different if we had married, for it seems somehow that in constant companionship a woman saps the spirit of adventure from a man. Not the women who flit across those burning moments of our youth, but the woman who year upon year sleeps by our side, for then in an intimacy bereft of passion it seems that she acquires a hold upon us, even as a mother acquires the hold upon her child."

He picked up his pen and wrote on. "The glory of Life is Youth but it is not given to Youth to wear its crown. Youth never realises its sovereignty, or has visions of the mighty kingdom that it owns." He sighed again, but more heavily this time. "It is not until the sunset comes that we take notice of the beauty of the sky."

He stopped writing and looked up thoughtfully. "Ah! and there is that young Benson there, and if I had my way he should know none of youth's sweet follies, for I would take all his youth from him and give it to some unknown old man." He paused for a few moments and then shook his head frowningly as if he were arguing with himself. "No, life is always pitiless and cruel, and it is written in the order of things that one man's success and happiness shall be bought always with another's failure and distress." He shrugged his shoulders carelessly. "So what does it matter if this boy suffers for the advancement of all mankind?"

His eyes glistened. "Ah! but it would be the crowning achievement of my life and I should go down to all history as one of the world's greatest sons!" He leant back despondently in his chair. "But search while I will I cannot, I cannot lay my hands upon the old man I want, and I see I cannot go on detaining the boy here much longer, for both his mother and his betrothed are agreeable people and their eagerness to have him back home distresses me. They are convinced, too, that he is well enough to leave now."

He wrote on for a long time, and then later after a frugal breakfast of a cup of coffee and one small piece of toast, walked round to the private hospital adjoining his residence.

His house was in the best part of Hampstead, and stood alone in some four acres of well-timbered grounds, surrounded by a high wall, well spiked at the top. The house itself was an old one, but some years before he had built on to it a most elaborate private hospital, equipped in every particular with the most modern improvements.

Time was when it had been always full, and he had kept a large staff, but his incarceration in a mental asylum for upwards of three years had mowed down his practice, and now his staff consisted of only two nurses and a wardmaid. For the time being the only patient under his care was a young fellow, Alan Benson, of twenty-three, who had recently been operated upon for appendicitis.

With slow and lagging footsteps, for he was feeling very ill, Sir Charles walked into the room where his patient was, and frowned with annoyance when he saw a young and very pretty girl seated by the bedside.

"Good morning, young lady," he said gruffly, "so you are upsetting my patient again, I see." Then noticing that she was flushing uncomfortably, he patted her gently upon the shoulder, and added with a fatherly smile. "But there, there, a little palpitation won't do him any harm. He's not as bad as all that."

"And when will he be able to come home, Sir Charles?" she asked eagerly. "He says he feels quite well and strong."

"You wait outside for a few minutes," he replied, taking in admiringly her blue eyes and beautiful colour, "and then, perhaps, I'll be able to tell you."

He examined the young man very carefully, and then announced slowly: "You're getting on well, my boy, but I am not satisfied that it is wise for you to leave just yet." He nodded. "Give it another three or four days and then it'll be quite all right."

He walked slowly from the room with thoughts in his mind that would have terrified the young couple could they but have known them. "I'll ring the Home for Aged Seamen," he told himself, "I helped young Pitcher to get through his exam, and he ought to be willing to oblige me now. I must certainly get some one within the next few days."

The girl was sitting again by the bedside. "Oh! how splendid!" she exclaimed. "He told me you could come home on Saturday!" Her eyes filled with tears. "Dearest, we have been so anxious."

"And I have some glorious news, too," said the boy, "that I was just going to tell you when my jailer came in." His eyes sparkled. "Lord Macklin told dad yesterday that as I can speak French and German he could get me into the Diplomatic Service, and dad says if so we can be married at once." He pressed her hand very softly. "You would like that, wouldn't you, sweetheart?"

She pretended to hesitate. "Yes, I suppose so," she replied. She sighed prettily. "I have given my promise and I won't draw back."

The boy laughed mockingly. "And you don't want to, of course, you little angel!" His voice trembled. "Now what about next month on your birthday, on the 12th?"

She bent down and pressed close to him so that he should not see her face. "No, dearest," she whispered softly, "it shall be on your birthday, the 27th." She kissed him tenderly. "It will be so sweet my coming to you as your birthday present."

And at that moment Sir Charles Carrion was ringing up Dr. Pitcher, the superintendent of the Home for Aged Seamen to inquire if the doctor could spare him a few minutes if he came round early in the afternoon.

Now, so great is the influence of the mind upon the body that, notwithstanding the physical condition of the great surgeon, a little while later he was being driven up to his consulting rooms with quite a cheerful and happy expression upon his face, for Dr. Pitcher had replied that he would be delighted to see him, and would arrange to be at liberty any time he called.

"And he's sure to have some old man there who is in need of surgical interference of some kind," had commented Sir Charles, "so I'll whip the old fellow up here to-night and operate to-morrow. Libbeus daren't refuse to give the anaesthetic for me."

His nurse greeted him as he came in. "You have four appointments for this morning, Sir Charles," she said, "and the first one is at eleven o'clock, but there is a new patient waiting, who says he will be so much obliged if you could spare him a few minutes."

Sir Charles looked at his watch. "I'm early," he said, "and you can show him in. I can spare a quarter of an hour," and so Larose was almost immediately being ushered into the room.

"Good morning, sir," said the ex-detective. "I am sure I am very much obliged for your seeing me without an appointment. It is most kind of you."

"Not at all," replied Sir Charles with a weary air. "I'm disengaged for a few minutes, and quite at your service. What can I do for you?"

Larose produced a visiting card with "Roy Colliver, Gum Creek Hotel, Kooringa" printed upon it.

"I'm an Australian," he said, "and am only staying here for a few weeks and I particularly want your advice. I understand my friend, Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, spoke to you about me yesterday and——"

"Ah! so he did," broke in Sir Charles quickly. "He said you had had stomach trouble and you didn't know whether you ought to have an operation or not." His eyes twinkled. "A very interesting gentleman, your friend, and he entertained me quite a lot. We were at Rostrellor Court, as of course you know, when that dreadful affair took place there." He clicked his tongue. "Tut! tut! what is the world coming to when any night respectable people may be blown sky-high from their beds?" He looked curiously at Larose. "But now tell me all about yourself."

"Well, it's like this," began Larose starting to relate a tale that had been most carefully rehearsed that morning with Croupin. "I keep a hotel, as you see by that card, in Kooringa, in South Australia, and about four months ago I was camping out with a friend in a lonely part of the bush about 200 miles further away from Adelaide, when I was suddenly taken with a violent attack of appendicitis, and——"

"How did you know it was appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles sharply. "Did you diagnose the nature of the trouble yourself?"

"Oh! no," replied Larose, "but it happened that two gentlemen who are both well-known surgeons in Adelaide came driving by in a car the third day after the attack, and my friend recognising one of them stopped them and asked them to come into the tent and see me."

"And they were of opinion you had had appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles.

"Yes, they said it was a typical case?" replied Larose glibly, "and they didn't know what could be done for me. We were up in the bush a long way beyond Lake Frome, and more than 150 miles from the nearest hospital. The roads were terribly rough, and as they were in a little two-seater car they were afraid to move me. They explained everything to me, and said I had quite an even chance of getting over it, if I lay perfectly still where I was, especially as the temperature was beginning to go down."

"Oh!" remarked Sir Charles slowly, "and so they went off and left you?"

"No," replied Larose, "they remained with me for two days, and then, as I was very much better, they said good-bye, warning me to not change my position, and not to get up or move about for a week."

"Were they sure it was appendicitis?" asked Sir Charles with a frown.

"Perfectly!" said Larose. "I had all the symptoms."

"Then do you remember those symptoms," was the next question, "and exactly how the pain came on?"

"Good heavens!" laughed Larose. "I should just think I do. Every moment of those awful days will be engraved upon my mind for ever. One minute I was seemingly a perfectly healthy man enjoying life to the full, and almost the very next I was writhing about in dreadful agony." He shuddered. "Oh! I shall never forget it."

"Writhing about, were you?" asked Sir Charles. He spoke in sharp decisive tones. "Well, tell me exactly how everything commenced."

"I was sitting before the camp fire," began Larose, "and we had just finished supper when I got a sharp pain in my right side, and when I touched it I found it was terribly tender. The sharp pain kept coming and going like the stabs of a knife and I became very feverish and violently sick."

"And you were all right again very soon?" asked Sir Charles.

"Except for a little soreness," replied Larose, "in about 10 days from the time of the first attack, and I have been all right every since." He looked very uneasy. "But I am worried as to whether it is safe for me to go back to Australia, without having an operation. All my friends tell me I might be attacked again on the voyage."

"And you had never had any attack before?" asked Sir Charles.

"No," replied Larose, "not the semblance of one."

Sir Charles was now regarding him with a most peculiar expression upon his face, and almost, Larose thought, as if he were inclined to be very amused.

Quite a long silence followed and then the great consultant asked carelessly: "And do you happen to remember the names of those two Adelaide gentlemen who came so opportunely upon the scene?"

"Oh! yes," replied Larose promptly, "and I have written down their names and qualifications on purpose for you to see," and producing a small slip of paper, he handed it across to Sir Charles.

"Ah!" commented the latter dryly, "both Fellows of the College of Surgeons, England, and both holding hospital appointments in their city. No doubt both eminent men over there!"

A short silence followed and then suddenly Sir Charles leant back in his chair and burst into a loud peal of laughter. He seemed to be enjoying a great joke, and he laughed with such enjoyment that his face grew red and tears came into his eyes.

For the moment Larose was too startled and amazed to make any comment, and almost thinking he must be in the presence of a madman, he drew back his chair a pace or two.

But Sir Charles's merriment subsided almost as suddenly as it had arisen and wiping his eyes with his handkerchief, he began making the most profuse apologies. "I am so sorry," he explained, "but I really couldn't help it. It is altogether too funny."

"But I don't understand you," said Larose with ruffled dignity. "I came here as a patient and——"

"No, you didn't," broke in Sir Charles sharply, and now as stern as a judge upon the Bench. "You came here as nothing of the sort, and I want to know what you mean by it." He drew himself up proudly. "My good sir," he went on contemptuously, "just fancy you having the impudence to come to one of the greatest abdominal surgeons of his age and dish up a lot of faked symptoms of trouble in your stomach, with the expectation of taking him in." He looked witheringly at Larose. "Why! you never had appendicitis, my friend, and no medical man in the world, let alone a Fellow of the College of Surgeons, ever told you so." He chuckled in amusement. "You've been reading up the symptoms from a book and got them all muddled up."

After Sir Charles had so deftly called his bluff, Larose felt an icy feeling running up his back, and his mouth was dry, but he put on a bold front and said sternly: "Really, Sir Charles, when I came in here I didn't expect——"

"To be caught out so easily," interrupted the great surgeon scornfully. "No, I don't suppose you did." His face was full of mockery. "And talking about your coming in, Mr.——Mr.——" he looked about for the card that Larose had given him, but for the moment could not find it—"well, never mind the name, for I'm sure it won't be your real one, so I'll call you Mr. Snooks, for the moment." He nodded. "And a very good name that, for I had a dog called Snooks once, and except that he was an inveterate thief, he was quite an acquisition to the household."

He started to laugh again, and Larose, utterly discomfited, thought it wisest to keep silent in the hope that he, in his turn, might soon trip the baronet in some way.

Sir Charles went on. "Yes, speaking about your coming in here now—the very moment you crossed the threshold my subconscious mind registered that there was something strange about you. Your walk was furtive, and you trod softly as if you had some nefarious and discreditable object in view. You were coming to steal something or impose upon me for money in some way!"

He roused himself up energetically in his chair. "Great Scot! man, you don't understand the atmosphere of the consulting room of a professional man. It is alive with queries, and deductions, and the whys and wherefores of everything." He smiled genially. "For instance, outside I may be absent minded and as a child in noticing anything, but in here"—he slapped his hand upon the desk—"I possess instincts akin to those of a beast of the wild, and the training and experience of nearly forty years are as searchlights that flood every corner of my mind." He shook his finger warningly. "So beware, my friend, of a tiger in his lair and a medical man in his own consulting room."

He leant back and spoke in a most kindly tone. "Now, I'll tell you where you went wrong, sir, when you were at such pains to reel off the tale of all those pretty symptoms of yours." He spoke slowly and punctuated every word with his hand. "A typical case of acute appendicitis, such as you say those medical men said you had, does not commence with pain and tenderness in the right side. On the contrary, its onset is ushered in by central abdominal pain, pain in the pit of the stomach, pain reflected from the appendix which is being distended by the inflammatory products within." He bent forward. "Now, do you follow me, Mr. Snooks?"

Larose laughed. "It is a lecture, sir," he replied, "and as it is being given by so eminent a surgeon, I suppose I ought to feel very grateful."

Sir Charles went on. "Then we have vomiting and then only when the very sensitive lining of the abdomen, just over the appendix, becomes irritated by the inflammatory products beneath, do we get that dreadful pain and tenderness in the right side."

He laughed scornfully. "As for writhing about in your agony, you might do that with pain in your tummy, but—goodness gracious! with pain from an appendix, you would keep as still as a dead man, so that by no movement should you add to your anguish."

He bent forward again suddenly. "Now, no nonsense my friend. Tell me frankly who you are and what is the information that you considered of sufficient value to pay my professional fee of three guineas for." He screwed up his face. "Now, are you a detective by any chance and suspicious about me, because when two of these mysterious bombs have gone off, I have upon each occasion been near the place of the explosion? I know I have made no secret of the fact that I was at the conversazione of the Royal Society last week, as well as at Rostrellor Court the other night." His voice was most imperious. "Come now, tell me honestly if you are a detective."

And all this time Larose had been thinking quickly. He realised that he had been outclassed in the unequal fight upon the surgeon's own ground, and that to keep up the pretence that he had come as a patient was no longer tenable. Besides, as a good judge of character he was sure now he would get more out of the eccentric individual before him by arousing his interest and being perfectly open.

"I am a detective, Sir Charles," he replied, slowly, "and I admit I am suspicious of you." He spoke very grimly. "Now what time did you go up to your room upon the night of the entry of those men into Lord Rostrellor's house?"

"Ah! that's better!" exclaimed Sir Charles gleefully, "and my powers cannot be failing to have so quickly forced such an admission from a gentleman with the good forehead and facial angle that you possess. What time did I go up to bed? I can tell you the exact moment. It was five minutes past one and I was the last to ascend the stairs." He nodded. "A courting couple had gone up just before me. They had been sitting in the conservatory in the dark and he had kissed her for the first time." He smiled. "At least, I suppose it was for the first time, because I was just behind them and heard her say: 'Oh! you shouldn't have done that,' which, if I remember aright, is always what a woman does say upon such an occasion."

Larose thought of the episode of Angela and Croupin in the conservatory, and could not for the moment suppress a smile. But he was grim and stern again almost at once, and asked: "And what can you tell me about this man Guildford?"

"He was a solicitor once," replied Sir Charles promptly, "but fourteen years ago was sentenced to five years imprisonment and struck off the rolls. Since then he has ostensibly carried on a business as an estate agent in Mile End Road, but in reality he is supposed to have been receiver of stolen goods, No. 1, for this great city of London." His eyes twinkled. "All this I read in the newspapers this morning."

Larose frowned angrily. "But you have known him before, Sir Charles," he said with the utmost confidence. He drew a bow at a venture. "We are sure of that."

Sir Charles sniffed contemptuously. "Bluff, sir, bluff." His eyes blazed. "I, consorting with a receiver of stolen goods! I, a gentleman, sir, and the eleventh baronet of my line!" His tone was icy cold. "Who told you so?"

Larose avoided the question. "Well, you admit you were in the hall at Rostrellor Court a bare ten minutes before the house was entered through the front door, and my opinion is you opened that door for them."

"And that opinion, my friend," returned the baronet dryly, "is of as much value as that other one of yours when you thought you were suffering from appendicitis,"—he sneered—"and when two eminent practitioners from Adelaide arrived so opportunely to confirm the diagnosis." He rose up from his chair. "And that is all the time I can give." He bowed. "I will waive the matter of the fee, but still I think it would be a gracious act upon your part to bring round some flowers or a box of chocolates for my nurse. She is a nice girl, and would appreciate either." He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. "Offer to take her to the talkies and then you could pump her about me. You have my full permission. Oh! one moment," he added quickly. "May I have the pleasure of learning what is your real name?"

"Snooks," replied Larose gravely, "a very good name, and a most eminent gentleman of this city thinks so, too."

"Ha! ha!" laughed Sir Charles merrily, "and that is the first score you've made since you came into this room."

"Most unbalanced in his mind," muttered Larose when he was out in the street again, "but clever—deuced clever." He grew hot with the recollection. "Really, I never felt such a fool before in all my life." He nodded. "But I'm very inclined to think he may be one of the Terror. He tells everyone he has not long to live and in that case he is just the type to run amok whilst he does." He nodded again. "Anyhow, he is my mark now and I ought soon to be able to link him up with Bascoigne or Guildford somehow."

* * *

That night about 8 o'clock Sir Charles was sitting in a very despondent attitude at his desk. The afternoon had been one of great disappointment, for Dr. Pitcher either could not, or would not, produce an old man who was likely to be benefited by any operation and the great surgeon had been much annoyed. He would, however, have been more annoyed still had he been aware of what was passing in the doctor's mind.

Dr. Pitcher had not at all liked the look of his old friend, and, moreover, had formed the decided opinion that the latter was now almost bordering upon the mental. Sir Charles had been very evasive as to why he was so anxious to operate upon someone, and all he had seemed to want was to get one of the inmates of the Seaman's Home under his care upon any excuse whatsoever.

Sir Charles heaved a great sigh, and taking up his pen, commenced to write.

"The brave man has no fear of death, and it is only a contemplation of the physical distress of dying that renders the thought of his passing distasteful. The common herd, who neither think nor reason, apart from the fantastic bogies of their imagination, fear death so much because they die alone. Were a mass extinction of all mankind to loom suddenly before the world, the elderly and the aged, for whom the grosser pleasures of youth have lost their savour, would mind much less that their days were numbered. It is the road that is lonely that terrifies with its shadows."

He heard a ring at the front door bell, and put down his pen with an uneasy frown. A minute later his butler appeared and announced that a gentleman wanted to see him.

"He has no card, sir," went on the butler, "but——"

"I won't see him," broke in Sir Charles angrily. "Tell him my evenings are my own."

"Very good," replied the butler, turning to leave the room. "He said his name was Mr. Chung."

Sir Charles started as if he had been stung by a wasp. "Ah!" he exclaimed instantly. "Wait, Rutter, wait. He is a Chinaman?" he asked.

"Yes, Sir Charles," was the reply, "but not a common one. He looks very well dressed to me."

The baronet could hardly contain his excitement. "I'll see him," he said quickly. "He is not a patient, and I forgot he was going to call. Show him in at once. No"—a crafty look came over his face—"bring in some glasses first, and the port and brandy."

The butler left the room and instantly all traces of despondency disappeared from Sir Charles's face. His eyes sparkled and he rubbed his hands delightedly. "It is fate, fate," he muttered, "and the man has come at the appointed time. Elderly or not, I will rejuvenate him, and when he passes again from under this roof it will be with stride and strength of a young man in the early twenties." He threw out his hands in his excitement. "Oh! what an opportune arrival!"

The butler returned with what had been ordered. "Shall I show him in, Sir Charles?" he asked.

"No," replied the baronet, who had now taken up his pen again and was pretending to frown over his manuscript. "I shall not be ready for a few minutes, and then I'll fetch him myself. I suppose he's in the morning room?"

The moment the butler had left the room Sir Charles lifted himself softly out of his chair and, going to a small cupboard, took out some little tablets from a bottle and, crushing them in a small mortar, placed an equal portion of the powder in one of the wine glasses and one of the tumblers upon the tray. Then with a genial smile upon his face he went and fetched Ah Chung.

"Come in here, my friend," he said, ushering him into the study. "It is much warmer, for there is a nice fire. Now sit down and tell me what you want."

Ah Chung was certainly showing a good appearance, for he was well dressed in a perfectly-fitting suit of good material, and he carried himself with dignity, and his face was as calm and impassive as ever.

"I have sought for Mr. Brown," he said, in his soft and gentle voice, "but he is not at his house in London, and his servant says he is not in the country either. He has gone away, and they do not know where he is. They do not know when he will return, and so I have come to you."

"And what, can I do for you, Mr. Chung?" asked Sir Charles, most politely.

"I want my reward," said Ah Chung. "Mr. Brown said I should have £1000 as the profit of my share in the ammunition, and for other things I have done."

"Certainly, you are entitled to it," said Sir Charles, "and I will see that you get it."

"I want it now," said Ah Chung, "for in three days I sail for my own country. I have secret news that the police are watching me, and I do not want to meet trouble."

"What! You are leaving England in three days!" exclaimed Sir Charles.

"The ship sails on Friday," was the reply, "and I weary for the land of my ancestors."

Sir Charles appeared to consider. "But I don't know what I can do in three days," he said slowly. "Is it absolutely necessary you have the money before then?"

"I want it now," said Ah Chung, "and it must be that you give it to me. I should want it, too, if I were not sailing, for"—there was no threat in his tones—"I have kept a still tongue."

"So have we for the matter of that," laughed Sir Charles. "It was best for us all that no one should mention those amusing little exhibitions you provided for us."

"But I know who you all are," went on Ah Chung very quietly, "and yours, alone, is your real name. Mr. Brown is Mr. Oscar Bascoigne, Professor Batcher is Dr. Libbeus, and as it is known now, Mr. Mason's name is Guildford."

The baronet's jaw dropped, and he drew in a deep breath. Then his voice was very stern. "So you have been an eavesdropper, Ah Chung? You have been listening when we were in your room?"

Ah Chung did not attempt any denial. "The master of a house should learn what goes on under his own roof," he said softly, "and it was wise I should know who you were." He spoke quite respectfully. "You shot that Lord of Burkington, Mr. Bascoigne killed the judge and that priest, Mr. Guildford stabbed——"

"That's enough, my friend," broke in Sir Charles, with a hearty laugh. "I admit it all. It is as you say." He looked the picture of merriment. "And how many people, you old rascal, have you killed yourself? Can you remember them all?"

"The lives of some are of little value," said Ah Chung, "and it is best that the foolish pass away."

"And I suppose what it really amounts to," said Sir Charles dryly, "is that you have got frightened, because Guildford has been caught."

"He was a weak link in the chain," sighed Ah Chung, "and his tongue may not be silent as has been mine."

A long silence followed, and then Sir Charles sat up and drew out his pass-book from a pigeon-hole in his desk. "I see I can give you a few hundred in cash," he said after a few moments, "and the rest you must take"—he looked inquiringly at the Chinaman, "do you understand what bonds are—Government bonds?"

"I have some myself," replied Ah Chung.

Sir Charles laughed. "Good! a remarkable man, I see," was his comment. "Then I'll make the rest in bonds, and you're lucky, because I have them here in my safe."

He rose up from his chair and then suddenly his eyes seemed to fall upon the tray the butler had brought in and placed upon a small table. "Ah! but you will have a glass of wine," he said. "No?—then a little brandy?"

"I never drink when I am on business," said Ah Chung quietly, "and I do not like the wines you have in this country."

Sir Charles pressed him, but he refused resolutely, and so, with a smile masking his chagrin, the baronet took a bunch of keys from his pocket and passed behind the Chinaman to get at the safe.

Then suddenly Ah Chung received a stunning blow upon the back of his head, and without a sound he slipped from his chair and in two seconds was lying a huddled and inert figure upon the carpet.

Sir Charles sprang at him with the ferocity of a wild beast, drawing back his arm to strike again. But it was unnecessary, for the Chinaman was quite unconscious and dead to all the world.

"The poor fool, with all his cunning!" panted Sir Charles. "He might have gone out in quite a comfortable way, and instead he forced me to adopt these violent means." His eyes gleamed with maniacal fire. "And so when all seemed hopeless, my glorious dream is coming true, for I shall make history to-night." He paused suddenly and stood, with his finger upon his lip. "No, not to-night. To-morrow, for I shall have a lot to arrange first. The preliminary preparations need as much thinking out as those for a great battle."

And then it would have seemed that there was no saner or more resourceful and businesslike person in all the great city of London than Sir Charles Carrion.

He went to the cupboard, and, taking a hypodermic syringe from its case and a sterile needle from a glass tube, broke a small glass ampoule, and gave the Chinaman an injection into one of the veins of his arm. Then he laid him upon the sofa and covered him over with a large rug.

Next he rang for the butler, and, meeting him in the hall, told him he desired to be disturbed by no one again that night, as he should be busy writing. He added that the visitor had gone, and he himself had shown him out.

Then, with the butler back in his own quarters, Sir Charles rang up Dr. Libbeus.

"I shall want you to give an anaesthetic for me to-morrow morning at 7 sharp," he said quickly. "It is a very urgent case."

"What is it?" asked Dr. Libbeus.

"Thyroid," replied sir Charles, "and don't you be a minute late. Come straight round to the hospital door, and take care you have all your wits about you. I shall want you for about two hours."

"Seven o'clock's a ghastly time in cold weather like this," said the doctor, "but I'll be with you all right."

Then Sir Charles ordered two tins of scallops to be sent round to the nurses' quarters; and followed it up by himself taking them a part of a decanter of port.

"It's my birthday," he told the nurses with a beaming smile, "and I remembered it only this evening. Just warm up the scallops for about five minutes and then serve them with white sauce. They are the most delicious shell fish I know of, and are better than oysters every time. You can give young Mr. Benson some and a glass of wine as well. They will do do him good." He shook his finger warningly at them. "But mind, young ladies, not more than two glasses for either of you. That's quite enough for any girl."

"Isn't he a dear," said one nurse to the other when he had gone. "The patients and every one simply loved him when he was at Bart's. He was always so kind and sympathetic."

The following morning, long before 7 o'clock, Sir Charles was waiting at the door to let Dr. Libbeus in, and he frowned irritably when the latter appeared. "Almost late," he snapped. "It's only two minutes to the hour."

They proceeded into the ante-room, adjoining the operating theatre, and, washing and sterilising their hands, put on their theatre gowns.

"What exactly is it you are going to do?" asked Dr. Libbeus, who seemed heavy and in an apathetic state of mind.

"The operation of my life," replied Sir Charles excitedly, "the rejuvenation of an old man. I am going to transfer to him certain glands of a youth, and it will take thirty years off his life."

"But what glands?" asked Dr. Libbeus incredulously, roused from his apathy all at once.

"The thyroid, the adrenals, and the gonads," replied Sir Charles majestically. "I would transfer the pineal as well, but I don't think they'd stand it. It would take too long."

"But, good God, man!" exclaimed Dr. Libbeus aghast, "it's murder, and the two of them will die, and then——"

"I will sign the death certificates," broke in Sir Charles firmly, "one due to cerebral haemorrhage and the other to cardiac failure." He shook his head emphatically. "But they won't die, I'm certain. They will both get over it, and then"—his voice rose in triumph—"my name will be remembered for ever."

"And the young man," gasped Dr. Libbeus, "have you thought of him?"

"Certainly I have," replied Sir Charles sternly. "He will be able to devote all his energies to whatsoever occupation he chooses, for I shall have saved him from the calls to the lower nature of his youth." He gripped the doctor by the arm, and led him towards the theatre. "Come on, it is too late now to draw back," and Dr. Libbeus, with his will weakened by years of drug-taking, just shrugged his shoulders and gave in.

Sir Charles and Libbeus entered the theatre where Ah Chung lay stretched out all ready, and drugged as a thing of death upon the narrow operating table. There was another table, but unoccupied, close by his side.

"But where are the sisters?" asked Dr. Libbeus, his hands trembling and his mouth gaping.

"We shall be quite alone, my friend," laughed Sir Charles, "for they are both indisposed and unable to come on duty." He grinned. "They partook of tinned scallops last night, and are now terrified they may be suffering from bad ptomaine poisoning. As a matter of fact, however, they have been slugged with a large dose of calomel, and they are twisting about with colicy pains." His eyes glistened. "Now I have got everything ready, for I have been hard at work all night. I have not had a wink of sleep."

"But where is the other pa—subject?" asked Dr. Libbeus, looking round.

"In his bed until I want him," replied Sir Charles, "and deeply under a basal narcotic." He went on quickly. "Now we shall have no trouble at all. I purpose first to dissect out every gland from this old man, but leave each one in its surroundings, so that two snicks only with the knife will enable me to lift them out. Then I am going to bring the boy in, remove every gland of his in turn, and rapidly transfer them to this old man." He drew the trolly of instruments up to the table. "Now, are you ready?"

Dr. Libbeus was frowning heavily. "I don't like to have anything to do with it," he said, "and damn you, I wish I'd never seen you." He took up his mask reluctantly and then looked round in a very dubious manner. "And I don't like the heat here either, you've got the place much too hot."

"It's only seventy," snarled Sir Charles. "I looked at the thermometer there, just before you came in."

Dr. Libbeus walked over to where he indicated, and immediately gave a low whistle. "Whew!" he exclaimed, "but it's seventy-four now." He raised his voice. "It's cursed dangerous with an anaesthetic at this temperature, as you know. There's that great risk of a spark coming from anywhere, when, as in here, now, there's not sufficient moisture, in the air to make a proper earthing."

"You needn't worry about any discharges of electricity in this theatre," scoffed Sir Charles. "All the floor's rubbered, and the trolly wheels, too, as you can see."

"But think of the inflammatory vapour that will be all round us everywhere in five minutes!" went on the doctor impressively. "We shall be surrounded by the highest explosive mixture possible, seventy five of oxygen and five of ether, or thereabouts, and I tell you I don't feel safe."

"Poof!" sneered Sir Charles contemptuously. "It's been used in the theatre for years and years, and nothing's happened yet." He jerked his head impatiently. "Get on with the anaesthetic, man."

More reluctantly than ever, so it seemed, Dr. Libbeus prepared to adjust his mask, but then, glancing down upon the operating table, he started suddenly.

"But it's Ah Chung!" he exclaimed in astonishment. "Did he give you his consent then?"

"Upon my word of honour," replied Sir Charles testily, "I assure you he never made the slightest objection. Come on. Start away, please."

"Well, damn you, again I say," said Dr. Libbeus sullenly, "and whatever you do don't start jolting my trolly. In my opinion we are as near dying as this poor devil here, and you'd better be mumbling your prayers."

He adjusted his mask, however, and proceeded to administer the anaesthetic.

Then minute after minute passed, and there was complete silence in the theatre, except for the gentle hissing of the oxygen as it issued from the cylinder to pass over the ether, and the sharp clicking in the tray as the surgeon changed one instrument for another.

"That's all ready," he said at last, "and now for the adrenals. I'll take the left kidney first," and he proceeded to very gently turn the patient to the position that he wanted.

At the same moment Dr. Libbeus made a slight movement with the face piece he was holding over the patient's mouth and nose to accommodate himself to the altered position of the latter's head. The covering of the gas bag then seemed to rub upon the rubber bag itself, for instantly—a spark was emitted, and in the thousandth fraction of a second the operating table and all round it was bathed in a shroud of flame. Then the ether container was blown into fragments with a violent explosion, and two seconds later a much more terrible one occurred, as a large bottle of ether upon the anaesthetic trolly exploded, too.

The whole theatre instantly became a sheet of flame. Dr. Libbeus was flung back with such force upon the floor that he immediately lost consciousness, whilst Sir Charles Carrion, with a yell of pain, darted in the direction of the door, covering his eyes with his hands.

Only Ah Chung made no movement and no sound. He was quite dead, for the vapour in his lungs had exploded also.

The great surgeon just failed to reach the door, and then he crashed down, to moan and grope blindly with his hands.

Two awful minutes followed. Then came the sound of hurried footfalls, and the door of the theatre was violently flung open, and the butler, with one of the nurses close behind him, burst in. For just a second, at the sight of the licking flames, the butler hesitated, and then, bending his head low down, he sprang forward and dragged his master outside. Then holding his breath, and unmindful of their burning clothing, he next rescued Dr. Libbeus and then the dead Chinaman.

All that could be done in the way of first aid was rendered, and then the telephone was set ringing and the firemen and the ambulance quickly arrived.

Dr. Libbeus died on the way to the hospital, and his body and that of Ah Chung were soon lying side by side in the mortuary, but Sir Charles, although terribly burnt about the head, face, and legs, remained conscious and appeared to be quite aware of all that was going on.

"No hope," he murmured faintly to the casualty officer who bent over him. "I shall be out within a few hours, so give me plenty of morphia and don't mess me about."

They asked him if he would like to say anything about how it all happened, but he made no reply. Then he asked suddenly how the others were, and when they tried to evade a direct answer, he remarked with little interest. "Dead, eh?" adding after a moment, "and a damned good thing, too."

Then he lapsed into semi-consciousness and no further attempts were made to question him.


CHAPTER XIII.—"THE WAYS OF DEATH."

The day of the explosion in the operating theatre of Sir Charles Carrion's private hospital was a very busy one for Scotland Yard, for it was stretching out its tentacles in all directions.

It had been quite aware of the urgent operation that was going to be performed at 7 o'clock that morning, and, moreover, that a certain Professor Batcher, of Queen Anne's street, whose name did not appear upon the Medical Register, was going to give the anaesthetic. Also, it had surmised that the Chinaman who had called at Sir Charles's private residence the previous evening at 8 o'clock, and had not been seen to come out again, was presumably going to be the patient.

Of all this, too, Larose had been kept informed, for he had waited upon the Chief Commissioner the previous afternoon, and, expressing his profound suspicion of Sir Charles, had asked that the latter's telephone should be listened into forthwith, and all the great consultant's movements be kept under the closest observation.

So it had happened that the arrival of two Chinamen the previous night to the entrance to the drive leading up to Sir Charles's house had been noted by three plain-clothes men, who were on the watch in different parts of the road there. Then they had seen the two Chinamen part company, one disappearing up the drive and the other moving off for about 50 yards, to take up a position where he could watch until his friend came out again.

But the night was cold and frosty, and the waiting Chinaman had soon not been content with just stamping his feet and flapping his arms about to keep warm. So, instead, he had started to take quick, sharp walks of a couple of hundred yards or so, continually glancing back, however, to make certain that his friend had not yet reappeared.

Presently then, upon one of these excursions, he had seen a motor car swerve into a barrow and almost run over the man who was pushing it, and in the interest of the angry quarrel that ensued, he had allowed his attention to be engrossed for a period that he realised all suddenly had been much longer than it should have been. So, after glancing quickly at his watch, he had started running back towards Sir Charles's residence. Arriving at the entrance to the drive, he had hesitated a moment as if doubtful what to do, and then, evidently thinking that his friend must have come out when he was watching the car, with no more ado he had taken himself off at once.

The chief of the plain-clothes men had been half inclined to detach one of his assistants to follow him, but, then, knowing the other Chinaman had not yet come out of the drive, and reckoning he must be the more important of the two, had decided it was best not to weaken his forces so early in the night, but just let this second man go.

So things had been up to 7.45 the next morning, when Larose received the news of what had just happened at Sir Charles Carrion's place in Hampstead, and within half an hour he was on the spot, along with a couple of men from the Yard. The ambulance had gone off some minutes ago, but the firemen were still on watch to make sure there was nothing continuing to smoulder among the ruins.

The fire had been an easy one to put out, having been entirely confined to the theatre and the anteroom.

The butler had been badly burnt about the hands in his heroic rescues, and was in considerable pain, but, as in his master's absence he had been always in sole charge of everything, he had refused now to leave the premises, and so had been put to bed in the ward by the nurses, and a local doctor called in.

Strict injunctions had then immediately been issued by the latter that on no account were any pressmen or others to approach the butler for interviews. The man was to be kept perfectly quiet, and no strangers were to go near him.

But it was one thing to give this order to the two nurses, and quite another to insist upon its enforcement to a very grim-faced Larose, accompanied by another equally uncompromising Detective-Inspector from Scotland Yard.

It was not just a matter, explained Larose, of the injuries to the butler's hands and the probable death of both doctors, in addition to that of the Chinaman which had already occurred. It was a matter possibly of many other deaths that had been occurring during the last few weeks, and therefore it was vital that the butler should give certain information at once.

"But, damn it all man," insisted the doctor, warmly, "I don't feel justified in exposing my patient to any such risk. He is suffering from bad shock as it is."

"And I won't add to it, I promise you, doctor," replied Larose equally firmly. "I needn't be with him three minutes. I just want to find out who that Chinaman was, and you shall stop my questioning any moment if you think I am upsetting your patient too much."

The doctor continued to object, but Larose handled him tactfully, and so at length he gave way. "But mind you," he said sternly, "you've promised to stop the moment I tell you and I shall expect you to adhere to your word. Remember, too, that apart from his physical suffering, the man is naturally in a condition of great distress about his master."

Upon being taken into the ward, Larose found the butler looking desperately ill, and he did not wonder the doctor had preferred no one should come near him. The man's eyes were wandering blankly round, and it almost seemed that he was not in full possession of his senses.

Fearful that at any moment the doctor might order him away, Larose at once bent down, and laying his hand upon the butler's shoulder in order to make sure of attracting his attention came at once to the point.

"Was that Chinaman who was upon the operating table this morning," he asked, "the same one who called last night?"

The butler appeared to be startled by the question, and then fixing his eyes upon Larose, stared and stared, but all the time as if quite unaware that he was being spoken to.

Larose repeated the question very quietly, and then the butler awoke at once to life and understanding.

"That's what I don't know, sir," he said quickly, "for all Chinamen seem alike to me." He looked very troubled. "And I'm very puzzled about the whole business. The Chinaman who called last night wasn't in the house 20 minutes, and the bell never rang again." He shook his head. "Yet, this morning Sir Charles was operating upon another Chinaman who somehow had arrived during the night."

"Did you let the first Chinaman out yourself?" asked Larose, holding his breath to await the reply.

"No, sir, Sir Charles let him out," said the butler. "He rang for me and told me so in the hall. He also said he didn't want to be disturbed again, for he was going to be busy with his writing until late at night." He shook his head. "He had said nothing to any of us about this early operation, Although directly I got back into the kitchen I heard him on the 'phone, and think now he must have been arranging about it."

"Then you don't know anything about this visitor who called last night?" asked Larose.

"No, sir, nothing at all," replied the butler, "for I'd never seen him before. He said, however, that his name was Chung."

Larose's heart gave a big jump, but then, noting out of the tail of his eye that the doctor was now jerking his head in the direction of the door as if to intimate that the questioning had gone on quite long enough, he asked quickly: "And were the Professor and Sir Charles great friends?"

"Only just recently," replied the butler, his voice now obviously beginning to weaken, "for up to about three months ago the professor had never come here. But he's been here a lot lately, for they've been making experiments together in the laboratory." He closed his eyes. "Something—to—do—with—ammunition—Sir Charles—told—me—once."

The doctor plucked Larose sharply by the arm. "That'll do," he said. "Not another word, now," and Larose with his pulse beating quickly, was almost pushed out of the ward.

Thanking the doctor he next proceeded to interview the head nurse, and the mystery of everything at once deepened. She told him of how she and the other nurse, along with the only patient in the hospital, had suddenly become ill after eating some tinned scallops Sir Charles had sent them, and how she had been obliged to call him in the night; how she had found him up and dressed, and how he had given them all sleeping draughts, but had said nothing about any operation. Then, how finally she had been awakened by the noise of the explosion in the theatre, and what happened after.

Larose listened thoughtfully, and then, having asked a few more questions, said he was going to the laboratory.

"But you'll want poor Sir Charles's keys," the nurse said tearfully, "for it's always kept locked," and she produced a bunch of keys that had been in the surgeon's pockets when his clothes had been cut away.

Then Larose, accompanied by Detective-Inspector Martin, made his way round to the laboratory, an isolated building about a hundred yards from the house away among the trees, and their eyes opened in amazement the moment they were inside.

"Explosives!" ejaculated Larose incredulously. "Good God! and someone's been making bombs here!"

And certainly, even to the most untrained eye there would have been something suspicious about the contents of the large room. Huge carboys of heavy looking liquids, nitric and sulphuric acids, and glycerine, long black packages with broad danger stripes of red down their sides, long lengths of fusing and fulminate caps of all descriptions. Then there were iron cases of varying sizes that looked like bombs, all waiting to be filled.

Inspector Martin whistled. "It's like a young arsenal," he exclaimed excitedly, and then seeing an innocent-looking attache case lying against the wall, he started to pick it up to examine what was inside. But he did not shift it more than half an inch from the floor, and then with a very white face he put it softly back in its place. "As heavy as lead, and perhaps all ready to go off!" he whispered. "Gosh! if I'd only let it fall!"

Making arrangements for the laboratory to be guarded, Larose gave a lightning survey over Sir Charles's study, and then, locking and sealing the door, proceeded at once to the hospital to which the injured men had been taken.

There he learnt Sir Charles Carrion was in a semi-conscious state, and likely to pass away any moment, and that Professor Batcher was already dead and in the mortuary with the Chinaman. He examined both the bodies, but was no wiser in consequence, for they were both strangers to him. He arranged, however, that their finger prints should be taken at once, and hurried down to Scotland Yard.

Then, after a very brief interview with the Chief Commissioner, by half past 10 he was being driven down to Limehouse with a search-warrant to go through the premises of Ah Chung. He was accompanied by Inspector Martin, who was well acquainted with the Chinese quarter in the East End, and two plain-clothes men.

He was hoping by acting thus expeditiously to get to Ah Chung's house before any of its inmates could have become aware of the Chinaman's death, but, as it so happened, although he was not to learn it that morning, he was just one hour too late.

It was Ho Ling who had accompanied Ah Chung to Hampstead the previous evening, and, being most uneasy that his relation had not returned when he himself had arrived back home about half-past 10, he had sat up all night to wait for him. Then when morning came and there was still no sign of the missing man, he had become very alarmed, and by 7 o'clock had set off to try to find out what had happened.

He had arrived at Sir Charles's just at the very moment when the ambulance was coming out of the drive and, standing among the crowd who were being kept back by a policeman, he had heard a butcher-boy tell a woman that there had been a dreadful fire, and two doctors and a Chink had been burnt to death. "Them were their bodies," the boy had added, "that the ambulance has just took away."

Quite certain that the Chinaman could have only been Ah Chung, he had waited a few minutes to overmaster his horror before approaching the policeman, who had then at once confirmed the facts. Then with no delay he had speeded back to the Causeway and made known what had happened.

Ah Chung's two young wives had immediately started to wail, but they had been sternly repressed in the callous oriental manner, and then a conference of all the relations of Ah Chung had been held.

Naturally, they were all staggered at the death of their compatriot, for they could hazard no guesses even as to how it had come to happen. But they quickly masked their grief and ceased all speculations for the moment realising that they must set to work at once, for there were certain things of which it was desirable the authorities should not become aware.

They had no reason to expect a police-raid, but at the same time they thought it wisest, as far as possible to be prepared for one.

So the two wives were promptly bundled over to the lodging-house next door, and all of Ah Chung's valuables that could be found, as well as certain other things, were laid hands upon and transferred to the same quarter.

They would have liked to dismantle everything in the big shed, but that they knew would have been a matter of at least two or three days, and to be caught in the act of doing it, they realised, would have looked very suspicious. So they decided to meet everything with blank looks and the attitude that they know nothing of Ah Chung's affairs, and with that end in view only two old men were left upon the premises in which the marine store was situated, all the others betaking themselves off to the adjoining houses.

And they were only just in time, for not a quarter of an hour later a police car drove up and stopped in front of Ah Chung's. It contained four passengers besides the driver, and the former at once sprang out and entered the marine store of the dead man.

"We're police," announced Inspector Martin curtly to an old Chinaman who came to the door of Ah Chung's store. "Who are you?"

The old Chinaman seemed in no way alarmed. "Me Wen Loo," he replied softly. "Me shop-man for Ah Chung."

"Who else is on the premises?" asked the inspector sharply.

"Another shop-man who help in the house," replied Wen Loo. He looked over his shoulder. "He is here. He is Fo Sin."

"Well, I've bad news for you," said the inspector at once, dropping his sharp tone and speaking very kindly. "A terrible accident has happened to your master, and he died just before 8 o'clock this morning."

"He will be back velly soon," said Wen Loo, with no expression on his face. "He gone out last night for little vile."

"But I tell you he's dead man," snapped the inspector. "I've just come away from his dead body."

"He say he come back," insisted Wen Loo. "He have business to do somewhere," and then it was only by much reiteration that the two Chinamen could be made to realise what had happened.

But they expressed no horrified comments, and just stood regarding the inspector as if he had imparted news of a most casual nature.

"Well, I've a search warrant to go through the house," the inspector went on briskly to the elder Chinaman, "and you'd better come with me. I've got all the keys that were found in Mr. Chung's clothes."

Leaving one of the plain-clothes men behind in the shop they proceeded to go through the rooms one by one. The upper ones were well and even richly furnished, and Larose expressed his astonishment at finding so much luxury in so poor a quarter.

"Pooh! that's nothing," exclaimed the Inspector. "Some of these Chinks down here are worth a lot of money. They get hold of it somehow and"—he nodded significantly—"we'd often like to know how."

Presently they came to a large bedroom even more comfortably furnished still, and the inspector sniffed hard. "But this is a woman's bedroom," he said sharply, turning to Wen Loo. "It reeks of scent. Now who sleeps here?"

"No one for to-day," replied the Chinaman softly, "but Mr. Chung have visitors sometimes. Two ladies were here just a little vile ago." His face was quite expressionless. "They vere his aunts, he say."

The detectives found nothing of much interest to them in the house, except a number of photographs of finger-marks, which Larose at once thrust into his pocket. But in the yard when they had unlocked the door of the big shed and switched on the lights, they had hardly taken a glance round before they were nodding to each other significantly.

"A rat pit!" commented the Inspector sharply. "All the paraphernalia for cock-fights, too, and"—he examined the big cages quickly—"if I am not very much mistaken, from the amount of dried blood here, fights between large animals have been staged here as well." He turned sternly to Wen Loo. "Who come here?"

But the Chinaman for the first time now betrayed surprise. "Me not know," he said, with his puzzled eyes roaming round and round. "Me not been here before."

"You liar!" snarled the inspector angrily. "Don't you tell us that. You know everything that's being going on here."

"Me not been in here," insisted the Chinaman firmly. "It is Ah Chung's business, and he talk never what he does. No one know much about him."

And that was the attitude with which the detectives were received in the adjoining houses on either side.

Indeed, no one seemed to know anything much about Ah Chung. He was a man of mystery, and avoided by all! No one liked him, for it was thought he was in the pay of the police, and he quarrelled with every one! One Chinaman, indeed, Ho Ling by name, who kept the bird and live stock shop, had not spoken to him for years! Also, it was the same with Ming Chow, who kept the lodging house on the other side. Ah Chung was his enemy, and he would have put him wrong with the police if he could! He was an evil man, and dangerous to have any dealings with!

Then when they were asked if they ever heard of Sir Charles Carrion or Mr. Sheldon-Brown they all looked as innocent as little children. No, they had never heard of either of them, but of Mason, the estate agent, they had of course heard. They had read all about him in the paper, and he was going to be hanged. He was supposed to have killed their neighbour, Voisin, too, the barber who lived at the back. No, they none of them knew Voisin to speak to, but most of them knew him by sight. He drank much whisky and was often seen coming out of 'The Bargeman's Friend.' The detective spent about two hours questioning them, and then drove away, leaving, however, the two plain-clothes men in Ah Chung's store.

"But I'll go back there in an hour or so with an interpreter and more help," nodded Inspector Martin with an unpleasant scowl.

"Do you think they've been telling us the truth?" asked Larose thoughtfully. "It seems to me——"

"The truth, sir!" exclaimed the inspector scornfully. "Great Jupiter, no!" He grinned. "We've been listening to a pack of lies from the very first moment we arrived, and if we only knew it every man jack of them is a relation of Ah Chung." He looked very amused. "Why, probably that Ho Ling is Ah Chung's brother, and it's quite possible one of the old Chinks there is his dad."

* * *

Late that night Larose called again at the hospital where Sir Charles had been taken, and learnt that the baronet was in extremis and likely to pass away any moment. Then, after a long argument with the resident medical officer, he was allowed to enter the ward and approach the bed of the dying man.

Sir Charles's head was all swathed in bandages, and only one ear and a portion of his mouth were visible.

Larose bent down and whispered very quietly. "I'm Larose, Gilbert Larose."

Then to his great surprise Sir Charles spoke back instantly, softly, but quite distinctly. "Oh! you are, are you?" he said as if with no astonishment. A ghost of a chuckle gurgled behind the bandaged lips. "Well, no one can do me any harm now, for I put on the black cap for myself when I came in here, hours ago." He sighed. "I'll be on that mortuary slab before morning."

"And we know all about you," whispered on Larose, "all you have done, and Dr. Libbeus and Guildford and Oscar Bascoigne."

"Very interesting," commented Sir Charles, with some faint amusement, "but the curtain is falling much too early. I was only just getting into my stride."

Larose made a grimace of dismay, for he had thought that if the baronet spoke at all it would be in a very different vein.

"Well, as some atonement," he said very solemnly, "tell me how we can prove that Oscar Bascoigne killed Sir John Lorraine. Bascoigne is the last of you four, and we want direct evidence against him."

"Then you won't get it from me," whispered Sir Charles very faintly, "for, ever since time was, no Carrion has been known to betray anyone"—he chuckled—"except perhaps a few women." He sighed. "No, I'll die a gentleman."

"You won't tell me anything, then, about Oscar Bascoigne?" asked Larose after a short silence.

"No, nothing," was the scarcely audible reply, "except that he's hot after Fairfax and will get him sure as hell." His voiced began to trail away. "Go—away—please. I—want—to—die—in—peace."

Larose tiptoed softly from the room, and learnt next day that when the chimes of midnight were sounding the baronetcy of the Carrions became extinct.

* * *

About a week later the Chief Commissioner of Police was arguing with Gilbert Larose, and, as usual, the two were not seeing eye to eye.

"I admit, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner, "that there is not the slightest doubt that three out of the four of that dreadful gang have been laid by the heels. Two of them are dead and buried and the third will assuredly hang, but"—and he shrugged his shoulders—"upon whatsoever charge can we arraign this fourth man, Sheldon-Brown, or Oscar Bascoigne, whichever he may be?"

"If there be any value in circumstantial evidence," replied Larose doggedly, "we have enough to hang him twice over. That he had committed two murders himself we can be sure and——"

"We have no witnesses," broke in the Commissioner.

"But we have the motives," insisted Larose testily, "and upon both occasions we can prove he has been upon the scene of the crime at the very hour when——"

"We have not the motives," cried the Commissioner, interrupting for the second time, "and we shall never have them until we can satisfy a stolid British jury that in the finger-print department of Scotland Yard it is always possible for the finger-prints and descriptions of one, Thomas Smith, to become changed to those of another, Albert Brown." He leant forward and spoke most kindly. "Look here, my friend. As you say, there is a large amount of circumstantial evidence suggesting that Sheldon-Brown was a member of the gang and the actual murderer of Sir John Lorraine and Archdeacon Lendon, but"—he spoke very solemnly—"there is little value in all this circumstantial evidence until it be supplemented by some direct evidence as well. You understand?"

Larose nodded grimly. "Yes," he grunted, "it is necessary for me to catch him cutting Brown's throat before you will be prepared to consider he may have cut Smith's."

The Commissioner smiled. "That's it, exactly," he replied. "A little direct evidence and the value of the circumstantial kind will be increased a hundredfold."

He looked up at the almanac upon his desk. "Now the trial of Guildford comes off in exactly three weeks, and the killing of that footman will be the only charge we are bringing against him." He looked very sharply at Larose. "We might have brought a lot of kudos to the Yard by arraigning him upon the other charges as well, but we have yielded to you there."

"Yes," nodded Larose, "and what good would it have done us by exposing our hands? We should have gained nothing by it and only warned Oscar Bascoigne"—he looked sternly at the Commissioner—"what we know about him." He sighed. "But good God! How easy it would have been to bring home those other murders to Guildford!"

"Yes," exclaimed the Commissioner with a ring of triumph in his voice, "because we should then have had this proven murder to give a background to the other charges we are bringing against him." His face beamed. "That is all we want about this Sheldon-Brown, sir. Catch him fairly out in another crime and he'll break like a rotten stick in our hands."

A short silence followed, and then Larose got to his feet.

"Then you absolutely refuse to tackle this Sheldon-Brown," he asked, "upon the evidence I have produced?"

"I do," replied the Commissioner, emphatically. He smiled kindly. "But don't give it up yet, Mr. Larose, I pray you, for remember you are the man that never fails," and with an answering smile, in which, however, there was not much warmth, Larose left the room.


CHAPTER XIV.—LAROSE BAITS HIS TRAP.

A week went by after the conversation between the Chief Commissioner of Police and Gilbert Larose, and then one crisp November morning the latter arrived at Mortimer Fairfax's chambers in Lincoln Inn's Fields, and asked to see the K.C.

He was not kept waiting long, and then directly he was ushered into Fairfax's room, the latter remarked drily: "More sentences of death, I suppose, Mr. Larose, and the day of execution getting nearer!"

Larose nodded solemnly. "I had not much to go upon when I warned you last time, sir," he said, "but now I have obtained evidence of a concrete nature, and I assure you the danger is very great."

"Sit down," said Fairfax, with his eyes and mouth smiling, but with his face grown an ugly grey. "I am quite interested."

"But no harm will come to you," smiled back Larose, "if you meet the situation bravely and make it possible for us to get hold of your would-be assassin before the sentence can be carried out."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the K.C., "then the time of which you spoke has arrived, and I am to hand over my poor carcase as the bait for your trap."

"Well, not exactly," laughed Larose, "but of course we want you to be on the spot as the star attraction. We'll take care, however, that no one gets near you."

"But what's this extra evidence you've got," asked the K.C., "that this scoundrel is really coming after me to take my life?"

"A little less than a fortnight ago," replied Larose, speaking very slowly, "one of Bascoigne's confederates died as the result of an accident. He would not give us the information we required, but I had speech with him just before he died, and his last words were that Bascoigne was upon your trail," and then Larose proceeded to relate quickly the greater part of all that had taken place, since that afternoon when they had first met at Mrs Fox-Drummond's in Surbiton.

"But good Lord!" exclaimed Fairfax, looking very amazed, "how on earth you have managed to keep all this from the public I don't know." He clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "And fancy Carrion being one of the band of madmen! I have known him for more than twenty years and the whole business would be inconceivable if it were not public property that he was almost a homicidal lunatic when he was put away about eight years ago." He looked thoughtfully at Larose. "But that finding of the scored newspaper in Bascoigne's desk doesn't certainly look too good for me, quite apart from what Carrion told you!"

"No, it doesn't," agreed Larose significantly, "and what I've witnessed this past week makes it much worse."

"Go on," smiled the K.C. "Let's have the whole issue. I'll have to go through it, I see."

But there was no answering smile upon Larose's face and he started to tell his story. "I've been shadowing Bascoigne for six days now," he said, "and five of them I have spent in Crowborough." He punctuated his words with his hand. "On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday he was in the garden nearly all day, practising at a miniature rifle-range he's got there"—the K.C. made an uncomfortable grimace here—"then on Saturday morning he went off in his car, and later I made my way over to Ingatestone. I sat among some bushes in a field opposite your house, and during the afternoon saw him drive by twice. He drove very slowly, and upon both occasions stared up towards your house. I also saw him go by once, on Sunday morning, and then he was back at Crowborough the same evening. I left him there last night."

"Hum!" remarked the K.C. "Practising in his garden with a rifle was he?" He grinned. "What sort of a shot is he?"

"Not too bad," replied Larose. "His rifle is a small .22 and his target is always placed at thirty yards."

"Just about the distance from the garden wall to the middle of my dining-room," commented the K.C. dryly, "and I always sit at the head of the table near the window." He looked sharply at Larose. "Now tell me exactly what you suggest. Do you want to catch the fellow in the very act of taking a pot shot at me with his .22?"

"Certainly not," replied Larose warmly, "but we do want to catch him in your vicinity in suspicious circumstances, with a weapon, a fire-arm preferably, ready to take the vengeance we are sure he has all along been waiting to exact." He went on quickly. "You see we have most definite proof that there were two men particularly upon whom he might want to take revenge, you and Sir John Lorraine, and we can show, definitely again, that he was in the vicinity of the Judge when he was killed. So if we can now catch him prowling about your house and armed with some weapon of destruction, then it will greatly add to the weight of the circumstantial evidence that it was he who killed Sir John Lorraine."

"All right," nodded Fairfax curtly. "I'll take it on. Now tell me exactly what you want me to do?"

"Firstly," replied Larose, "let me take this notice to the office of the 'Morning Post' for insertion tomorrow." He smiled, "The 'Morning Post' has always been the paper that both Bascoigne and Sheldon-Brown read."

The K.C. took the notice he held out and read. "Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, K.C., is suffering from the aftereffects of a bad cold and has been ordered by his medical adviser to remain, for a few days at his country residence in Ingatestone."

"All right," he said, "now what next?"

"Go down the day after to-morrow," replied Larose, "and make a little house-party of it. Ask Mrs. Fox-Drummond and Miss Lendon and my friend de Choisy-Hautville, among others."

The K.C. grinned. "You vouch for this French chap, I suppose?" he asked. "He's going great guns with Angela."

"Certainly!" replied Larose, "he's as straight as a die now. He had a bit of a wild youth, but that's all over and done with, and he's a very fine fellow."

"Well, how are you going to protect me?" asked the K.C. sharply. "I tell you I'm not a bit afraid, but it's an uncomfortable position to be in, and I expect reasonable precautions to be taken."

"And they shall be taken," replied Larose instantly. "I promise you you shall be so safeguarded that the man will never be able to get near you." He nodded. "I spent all yesterday studying the lie of the land about your place, and the house lends itself admirably to a scheme of protection. It is only about 200 yards from the high road, it stands by itself upon rising ground, and can be seen from all parts of the town! The land behind it slopes up for about 300 yards to those little hills from which you get a view in every direction." He looked very confident. "Things could not be better."

"Yes!" commented the K.C. dryly, "and those hills would be an ideal place for a man firing high-velocity cartridges, even if they were only .22's."

"But Bascoigne is not a rifleman," replied Larose quickly, "and he's never been known to possess a rifle until he bought this one in Crowborough about three months ago. He buys all his cartridges there, too, and that is how I come to know he is using long .22s." He raised his hand. "Now listen Mr. Fairfax and I'll explain to you exactly what I want to do."

* * *

So it was that two days later quite a merry little house-party assembled in the old Manor House in Ingatestone. There happened to be a considerable amount of influenza in the city at that time and excuses were easily found that a few days in the country would brace them all up, and although it was November they were sure they would have anything but an uninteresting time.

They intended to explore lovely little, and still almost unknown, villages, whose very names carried one back to medieval times. Their host would provide unlimited rabbit-shooting whenever the weather was fine. There would be always bridge when it was too wet to go out, and they had enough musical talent among them to make up quite a good orchestra when anyone wanted to dance.

And the company assembled there, too, was so very interesting. There was an old Admiral Harcourt who had such a fund of good stories, and who made everybody so deliriously terrified, because they never knew what he was going to say next. There was Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, a descendant, it was whispered, of the Bourbon kings, who could play like a virtuoso upon his violin and wrap the room in silence for many moments after his playing had died away. Then there was a dear old man from Australia who was a thought reader and could hypnotise people and do a lot of uncanny things.

Then there was Mrs. Fox-Drummond, whose men-servants and whose maid-servants had been lent, almost it seemed, by the score. She was the hostess, and discreetly and with a very light hand, chaperoned a bevy of delightfully pretty girls.

There were some well-known beauties among these girls, too; Margot Devine, who had been regarded as one of the most charming debutantes of the past season; Angela Lendon, who could have sat to an artist for an angel from Paradise, because she was so happy and so much in love, and Selina Courtland, who, as every one knew, would be featured in the forthcoming greatest screening of all time, 'The World's Desire.'

But above all surely there was the host, the genial, hearty Mortimer Fairfax, the fighter, who a hundred times and more upon behalf of some poor trembling prisoner, had faced so unflinchingly a hostile judge and jury, and who now, although only a few of them there knew it, was facing equally bravely the lurking figure of an assassin he might never see, and the whining of a bullet he might never hear.

It was indeed a strange gathering, symbolising at once the happiness of life, the menace of foul and dreadful death, and the scaffold of the Law hidden only such a little way away.

The house-party had all arrived upon the Thursday afternoon, and towards dusk upon that day, a car coming from the direction of Chelmsford pulled up to a small shop in the little town of Ingatestone, and its driver getting out he made some few light purchases of tobacco and sweets.

He was quite a pleasant-looking man, and while the woman of the shop was getting him his change asked chattily who lived in the big house upon the right, just coming into the town.

"Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, the great King's Counsel," replied the woman, "but unfortunately for the town he doesn't often stay here. However, he's arrived to-day, and with quite a big house-party, too, for I must have counted eight or nine cars turn up his road since noon."

"Good gracious! but where does he get his staff from?" asked the man, appearing very interested.

"Oh! his cousin, Mrs. Fox-Drummond sends them," replied the woman. "A brakeload of them came along yesterday and two of the gentlemen were drinking at the King's Head last night." She smiled. "They're just human, like the men who work in the fields."

On Friday the day was mild and bright and the house-party had quite a sporting time, for 30 pairs of rabbits were available for distribution among Mr. Fairfax's tenants.

Saturday was equally fine and most of the young people drove over for lunch to Felixstowe, returning home soon after five, just as a mist was beginning to roll up from the sea.

"But it's not going to be much," remarked Admiral Harcourt loudly, "and the summer-house will still be available for courting couples, after dinner, if the moon's not too strong."

He was at once informed that his ideas were disgraceful and he could go by himself to the summer-house if he wanted to, for 18 tickets had been taken for the Talkies at the Town Hall, and he was going to be left to ruminate upon his sins, alone.

The old man from Australia who could read thoughts was very troubled in his mind and listened to the badinage with deaf ears, for as Detective Inspector Larose, fog was the one thing he dreaded. He had four men stationed in the garden and there was some one watching night and day upon one of the hills. But what good were any of them if a dense fog descended, and how could he then guarantee the safety of the K.C.?

He remembered the bold way Lord Buckington had been murdered, with his assassin smashing the glass of the dining-room window and then coolly firing through the broken pane.

But he was taking all the precautions that he could, he told himself, for when the party would have left for the talkies, the lights in all rooms were to be left on, so if any one were prowling about outside he would be very puzzled to determine in which particular room was sheltered the master of the house.

Dinner was over about half-past seven, and then, attired warmly to face the short walk into the town, the young people stood about in pairs waiting until every one was ready.

Larose slipped out of a side door and in the half light of the mist made his way round outside the low garden wall, towards where he could look across the garden on to the lights of the dining-room, and the other living room of the house.

The mist was not very thick and the moon, nearly at his full, was making determined efforts to break through. He whispered a few words in passing to two of the men who were lying well-rugged, behind some bushes, and then gaining the position he wanted, stood leaning against a big tree which was almost touching the wall itself.

And at that very moment Oscar Bascoigne, with the tread of a tiger, was parking a bicycle among a small clump of trees not ten paces from where Larose stood. He was carrying a small rifle under his arm.

A breeze had sprung up from the sea and the mist was clearing rapidly, rising in great wreaths and rolling up over the hills.

Larose bent over the wall, and, giving way to his thoughts, wondered, as he had so often done before, why the good things and the foul things of life came to be so intermingled.

The young people going into the town were evidently almost ready, for he could hear them so plainly that he knew the hall door must be now open.

He could catch the lilt of their happy laughter, with the rapture of the promise of life that ran as a beautiful refrain in the music of their voices as they called to one another. He could picture their sparkling eyes and the soft pressure of their hands in the darkness, the snuggling close together as they stood arm in arm—and here was he clutching to a deadly little pistol and hoping with as deep a hope as he had ever hoped before that some one was not far away and bent that night on murder.

A puff of wind came up from the road below, whisking away the last wreaths of mist, and the moon came out in all its glory.

Suddenly then, in a dim, subconscious sort of way, Larose became aware of a faint sound, as of some one breathing close beside him. He did not take it in for a second or two, but then with a choking feeling in his throat he stepped back a pace to see if any one were sheltered behind the other side of the tree.

Then his heart almost stopped beating in his surprise, for not three feet away from him stood the man who had been in his thoughts for so many weeks—Oscar Bascoigne, the ex-convict and assassin.

For just the fraction of a second he did not take it in, and then with a yell of triumph he moved to spring forward. But Bascoigne was just that fraction of a second before him, and the ex-convict's fist struck like a sledge-hammer between his eyes, throwing him back with great violence on to the ground.

Then Bascoigne was upon him like a stroke of lightning, and kneeling across his chest, with one hand he gripped his throat and with the other tugged fiercely at a big-headed hammer that he had got in his pocket. But the greater part of the hammer had been sawn away and in its truncated condition it stuck across the pocket.

He managed to pull it out at last, however, and was just raising it to crash down upon the forehead of Larose, when he suddenly heard an angry shout close near and, jerking up his head, saw not fifteen paces away a lithe and supple figure darting towards him.

He dropped the hammer instantly and, springing to his feet, made a jump for the rifle that he had left upon the wall. Then came the sharp click of the ejector, the rifle was lifted up and pointed, and three shots came in quick succession at the flying Croupin. The first went through the lobe of one of his ears, the second furrowed along the side of his forehead, and the third passed harmlessly through his clothes just under his left armpit.

There was no fourth shot fired, for Croupin was upon him with the leap of a greyhound. There was no chance for either of them to strike a blow, but Bascoigne lunged furiously with the butt of the rifle at Croupin's face. The butt, however, struck harmlessly in the air, and the next second the ex-convict felt an excruciating pain in his left elbow, and as quickly as he could start to scream out in his agony his arm was twisted over his head, and he crashed to the ground.

Then the voice of Croupin rang out like a clarion call, "Help! help!" he cried. "I've caught someone who's attacked old Mr. James."

Help was immediately forthcoming from a dozen places, and in less than two minutes Bascoigne had been handcuffed and under a strong escort was being marched into the Manor House. Then to the great joy of everyone, it was found that the kindly old Australian was not much hurt, and indeed was able to rise to his feet and even talk.

"But my good friend," he whispered, pressing the Frenchman's hand, "you saved me from having my face bashed in. Another second and the hammer would have fallen, but he heard you shouting, and dropped it just in time. You are a brave man, Monsieur."

"I never saw a braver action," confirmed one of the plainclothes men. "This gentleman ran right into that devil's fire, facing an almost certain death."

A hundred questions were asked by the house-party, but they were put off by evasive explanations that the attacker was only a poacher, and finally persuaded, all except Croupin and Angela, to proceed as arranged to the Town Hall.

Then Larose and Mortimer Fairfax, after a short conversation together, accompanied by one of the plain-clothes men, went in to interview Bascoigne, finding him, however, in a very different mood to that which they had expected.

"Now what the devil does this mean?" he expostulated fiercely. "I find myself a prisoner, presumably in a gentleman's mansion, and yet two dastardly assaults have been made upon me, and I have been obliged to fight for my life."

He gave one glance at the plainclothes men, two at Larose, and then a long, intent stare at Mortimer Fairfax.

The plain-clothes man had been deputed to do all the talking, and he at once asked sharply, "What's your name?"

"Thomas Sheldon-Brown," replied Bascoigne with dignity. "My addresses are The Pines, Crowborough, and 25 Charles Street, Mayfair. I am a justice of the peace for the county of Sussex."

"Then, Thomas Sheldon-Brown," said the plain-clothes man sternly, "I arrest you for firing, with intent to murder, at Monsieur Raphael de Choisey-Hautville, and I warn you that anything you say now may be used in evidence against you."

"Damnation!" swore Bascoigne, spluttering with rage, "and where shall I sleep to-night?"

"In Chelmsford," was the curt reply, "and directly the Ingatestone sergeant comes up, you'll go straight away."

Ten minutes later, over some stiff brandies and sodas Larose and Mortimer Fairfax were discussing everything together.

"And you recognised him?" asked Larose.

"Instantly," replied Fairfax. "He's altered a lot, of course, but his eyes are just the same and the shape of his forehead and his voice."

"And didn't he look hard at you!" said Larose. His eyes sparkled. "But one thing—those wounds he gave to poor de Choisy-Hautville could not have been more opportune, for we need not now show down our best cards."

The K.C. considered. "But it's the bail I'm thinking of," he said thoughtfully, "and that's where we may come a dreadful crash." He roused himself up in his chair. "You see, he'll bring out some big guns to get bail, and I'll stake my life it will be no local solicitor who will be appearing for him on Monday." He shrugged his shoulders. "The Chelmsford magistrates are only homely little people after all, and they'll be awed by a big bug from London."

"But if he gets bail," frowned Larose, looking very uncomfortable, "we may never see him again. With the resources at his command he could escape anywhere."

"Exactly!" nodded Fairfax, "and so he'll do his very utmost to get out on bail on Monday." He looked pessimistic. "You've just heard the defence he's going to put up, and it'll sound quite a plausible one. An enthusiastic naturalist out cycling to get a specimen of a long-eared owl—it is known there are a few about here—and suddenly he is set upon by a man who darts from behind a tree. Then up comes tearing another fellow and terrified that he is going to be murdered, the poor naturalist threatens this second man, calling out that if he doesn't stop he's going to fire. Well, when this fellow takes no notice of his warning and still comes rushing on, the nerve-shaken naturalist, scared out of his life, lets fly bullet after bullet, as he says, to save his life!" The K.C. shrugged his shoulders again. "Now, what could sound more plausible?"

Larose shook his head. "A man can't deliberately fire three times at another man," he said, "and not be committed on a charge of firing with intent to kill. Whatever his defence he'll be sent up for trial."

"Oh! yes, of course," agreed Fairfax at once. "But what I mean is, if his solicitor can so impose upon the Bench that the whole matter is in reality only a trivial one, due in the first instance to your terrifying his client by jumping out from behind that tree"—he shrugged his shoulders—"then if they're prepared to put up substantial bail, I'm more than half afraid the local J.Ps. will grant it."

Larose nodded grimly. "I understand," he said. "So on Monday we'll just charge him with firing with deliberate intent to murder Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, and then when it comes to a question of granting bail, we'll fight them tooth and nail. The Yard will be sure to send down a good man."

Fairfax nodded. "Yes, Matthew Wain will probably come. He's not much to look at but he's very convincing and puts up with no nonsense from any one."

A thought seemed suddenly to strike Larose and he leant forward until his lips were close to the K.C.'s ear. "But now have you by any chance," he whispered, "a particular friend among the Chelmsford magistrates to whom you could just give the office and ask him to be sure and take his place upon the Bench on Monday? Then we could be certain of one who would oppose bail at all costs."

Mortimer Fairfax made no reply, but smiling knowingly, tapped the telephone upon his desk and then solemnly winked one eye.

"Good!" grinned Larose, "the scales of Justice must be kept even, but still the balance may just want a wee drop of oil on one side every now and then."

* * *

The following Monday morning the old Court House at Chelmsford was packed full, for long before the doors had been thrown open a big crowd of people had been waiting to get in.

The previous day rumour had been busy all round the country-side, for it had been whispered that a man had been caught in the very act of trying to murder some one in the old Manor House at Ingatestone.

The Court opened punctually and five magistrates took their seats upon the Bench. One was a retired Colonel, an old gentleman with a bald head, a very red face and a huge white moustache; another was a grocer in the town, who supplied everything for the Colonel's household; a third was a brewer; the fourth was a refined-looking woman, the president of the local women's political association, and the fifth was a plumber who had recently been made a justice of the peace when the Labour Government was in power. The old Colonel was in the chair and, looking very important and stern, he frowned round the Court and tugged fiercely at his big moustache.

The case of Sheldon-Brown was the only one that morning, and he appeared in the Court looking smart, well-groomed, and a typical English country gentleman. There was a drawn look about his face, however, and it was obvious he was not nearly so unconcerned as he wished to appear. He was represented by Skipton Bellington, about the best-known and most capable Police Court advocate in London.

Bellington was a big, stout man, weighing about seventeen stone. He had the head and face of a bull, and with his big bold eyes, he had proceeded to weigh up, in one hard stare, the personalities of all the magistrates as they had come in. He decided there was not much danger in any of them. Just local nobodies, all except the chairman, and he looked peppery and would have to be handled with more care!

As Mortimer Fairfax had predicted Matthew Wain appeared for the police. He was a wiry little man with sandy hair and looked like a fighting terrier. He, too, took good stock of the Bench, and thought, as Bellington had done, that Colonel Jones was the main person to be considered. Still, he was not quite certain of the woman there, for she looked too sympathetic and emotional, he thought, with all her firm chin and good facial angle.

He looked sideways, with a covert smile, at Bellington, and smacked his lips in anticipation, for he loved a good fight, and was sure there was going to be one. He knew what he had been sent down for. He was not to let the accused get out on bail, what ever happened, and, as much as possible, he was to keep back all they knew about him.

He opened his case very quietly, and detailed in brisk, decisive tones what had happened.

The authorities were in receipt of information that had led them to expect an attack was going to be made upon Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, the eminent King's Counsel, and mindful of the fact, that his half-brother, Archdeacon Lendon, had been murdered in August last, they had taken good steps to protect him, and no less than six plainclothes men had been on duty round the Manor House two nights previously.

Well, the accused had been found prowling about under very suspicious circumstances, and, in an attempt to apprehend him, had been in the very act of striking at Inspector Larose's head with a heavy hammer, as the latter was lying half-stunned upon the ground, when one of the guests of Mr. Fairfax, a Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville, had run up to interfere. Then the accused, who was armed also with a rifle, had fired three times at this guest, almost at point-blank range, with the undoubted intention of killing him. Happily, however, he had not succeeded in doing so, but, nevertheless, Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville's escape had been a very narrow one, for he had been wounded twice and a third bullet had passed through his clothing, within an inch of his heart.

It has since been discovered that the accused had been staying in an adjoining village under an assumed name, and was, moreover, an addict to a most deadly drug, cocaine. He was undoubtedly a most dangerous man to be at large.

The charge was a very grave one and he had no doubt their Worships would forthwith commit the accused for trial.

Then Larose, Croupin, and two of the plain-clothes men gave their evidence and substantiated all he had said. Bellington tried hard to fluster and make them contradict themselves but it was no good, and in the end he sat down looking very heated and angry.

Then after a long drink of water, he rose up to put the case for the accused, and the whole tenor of his speech was to make light of everything that had occurred. He did not intend for one moment, he said, to attempt to justify the actions of the accused, but they were not of the serious nature his humorous friend, Mr. Wain, had tried to make out. The police were barking up a wrong tree and if Mr. Mortimer Fairfax indeed had an enemy, who was seeking to injure him, then it certainly was not the accused.

As Mr. Wain had said the case was very clear, but in quite a different way to that he had indicated. The accused was a harmless, inoffensive naturalist who had come to the neighbourhood to obtain a specimen of a long-eared owl. He was naturally of a nervous disposition, and this nervousness had unhappily been aggravated by his smoking too many cigarettes lately and also, very injudiciously, taking a little cocaine to allay a certain irritation of the throat from which he suffered. So being in that condition, what was more natural, when after suddenly being grabbed hold of by a strange man in a lonely lane at night, and then seeing another man rushing upon him, he should have started to defend himself. He lost his head, that was all, as probably nine men out of ten would have done in similar circumstances.

In conclusion, the accused was extremely penitent about the whole matter, and was anxious to pay substantial compensation to the gentleman he had wounded and also contribute the sum of £1000 to the funds of the local hospital. Therefore, taking all things into consideration, he thought their worships would be fully justified in imposing a big fine and disposing of the whole matter straightaway.

Matthew Wain gave a screech of laughter. "And Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville will at the same time," he called out, "apologise for having got in the way of the accused's bullets." His voice rose in contempt. "A fine for a deliberate attempt to murder! It is a joke."

Colonel Jones gave a quick glance to either side at his colleagues. "We shall commit the accused for trial," he said curtly.

Bellington appeared to be rather hurt at their decision. "Then as to the question of bail, your Worships," he began, "we are prepared——"

"Bail!" gasped Matthew Wain, jumping to his feet as if he had been bitten by an adder. "We shall not agree to bail under any circumstances. It is preposterous to suggest such a thing and my friend knows it."

"Preposterous!" thundered Bellington, his eyes blazing with fury as he addressed the Bench. "Why, if your Worships do not grant it, it will bring down ridicule upon all the county magistracies in the kingdom!" He almost choked. "Not grant bail to a man of the standing of my client, a county magistrate himself! It would be unheard of!"

And then for many minutes the two argued on, with the big man the thunder, and the little man the lightning. Bellington scowled and shouted to intimidate the Bench and Wain was at his throat, interrupting every time he spoke.

But old Colonel Jones was not in the least intimidated if any of his colleagues were. Years ago he had heard the guns of Mons and at home, now, he kept in order a very assertive wife. He regarded the two disputants coldly and would have liked to decide against them both if he could. He had always thought that most lawyers were rogues, and certainly neither of these two before them now looked like gentlemen. Then he remembered the conversation on the 'phone the other night, with his old friend Fairfax, whom he now saw in Court, and he decided it was time for the wrangle to stop.

He would give a decision at once, and he was sure his colleagues would agree with it afterwards! Binks was his grocer, Mrs. Callow was a friend of his wife's, the plumber had just sent him an estimate for putting in a new bath, and the brewer was an easy-going man with whom he often had a round of golf.

He just looked round casually at his colleagues, and then rising to his feet majestically, raised his hand for silence.

"We refuse bail," he announced sternly. "We are unanimous," and then with a courtly smile he stepped back to make way for Mrs. Callow to precede him off the Bench.


CHAPTER XV.—THE BATTLE OF THE GIANTS.

The arrest and committal for trial upon a charge of attempted murder of the well-known philanthropist, Mr. Sheldon-Brown, was the sensation of all the newspapers the next morning.

There were so many intriguing points about the arrest. The wealth and social position of the accused, the sudden incursion of London's two most able Police Court advocates into the little town of Chelmsford to fight the case, the bitter and acrimonious dispute, as if it were a matter of life or death when the question of bail came to be considered, the hinting by the police that even graver charges might follow, and, above all, the fact that the great international detective, Gilbert Larose, was back in harness again and had been one of the chief witnesses for the Crown, all made the case one of outstanding interest. Rumour, of course, began at once to cry aloud with her thousand tongues.

Scotland Yard was humming like a hive of bees that had been disturbed, and every plain-clothes man that could be spared was hunting somewhere! Mortimer Fairfax was the half-brother of that old clergyman, Archdeacon Lendon, who had been so mysteriously murdered last August, and the veil upon a dreadful family vendetta was about to be lifted! Sheldon-Brown's magnificent residence in Crowborough had been raided by the police, and, most astounding tale of all, the romantic marriage of the beautiful Lady Helen Ardane and Gilbert Larose had turned out a dreadful failure for the latter had left Carmel Abbey for ever and, in dire financial straits, it was to earn his living only that he had been forced to return to the yard!

Unhappily for the scandal-mongers this last story came abruptly to an inglorious end when an enterprising photographer from the Daily Cry motored down into Norfolk and snapped Mr. and Mrs. Larose coming out of the village church after the christening of a child of one of the Abbey tenants. Also, he obtained the interesting story from one of the villagers that however busy the great detective might have been of late he had rarely let 48 hours go by without flashing down at night for a few hours in his blue single-seater car that was so well known all round the countryside.

Still this little tit-bit of scandal, snatched from their very lips, was as a small thing compared with the sensation that followed so quickly after, for on the Thursday Sheldon-Brown was removed to London by special order, and the following day, to the stunned amazement of the public, under the name now of Oscar Bascoigne, an ex-convict, charged before the Recorder with the murders of Sir John Lorraine and Archdeacon Lendon.

The proceedings before the Recorder were very brief, for to the surprise of all present in the Court, after the bare outline of the charges had been given, it was at once announced that the accused was reserving his defence. So with no more ado he had been committed for trial.

The evening papers sold like wildfire, and there were probably few people that night who did not read one. The public were quick to realise what it meant and were almost unanimously of opinion that the Terror gang had at last been laid by the heels. More arrests, they were sure, would soon follow, and now they could understand why Larose was in the limelight again, for, of course, with his genius for the tracking down of crime his assistance had been invoked by the authorities.

"And it is no disgrace to the Yard," nodded the wise ones, "for only once in a generation comes a man like Larose. He can reason backwards as easily as other people reason forward, and it is no wonder that in Australia there are those who, after a murder has been committed, actually believe that he can see the shadow of the murderer upon the wall."

Angela was very tearful that all the details of her father's murder were being recalled again, and when Croupin called that night at Surbiton she was almost upon the point of breaking down.

"Let us go into the music-room, Mademoiselle," he said nervously, "I, too, am very distressed to-night."

But then when the door was closed behind them, instead of giving the explanation she expected, he seated himself before the harpsichord and began to play, and she, upon the settee by the window, stared out into the darkness, as for a long while she listened to the soft and beautiful harmonies that he drew from the old instrument.

Presently, however, with a little grimace and a deep sigh, she moved across the room, and, drawing up a chair close to him, laid her hand gently upon his arm. "That'll do, thank you, Monsieur," she said quietly. "I want to speak to you."

Croupin's heart beat quickly, for behind her gentle tones he sensed somehow that something stern and serious was coming.

"Bien," he said equally, quietly. "I am always at your service, as you know,"—his voice deepened passionately—"now and for ever."

She laughed a little nervously. "You court differently in your country, Monsieur," she began, "to the way we do in ours." She was obviously speaking with an effort. "For example, you have been with me a lot lately, and yet you have only kissed me once and then"—her voice was mocking—"you assure me it was an accident."

"There are kisses and kisses, Mademoiselle," replied Croupin gravely, "and the kisses I would give you would have the promise of a lifetime's devotion behind them." He bowed. "They are not to be given until you are my affianced wife"—his voice was very sorrowful—"and now I am not justified in asking you."

"Oh!" exclaimed the girl carelessly and yet choking back a lump in her throat, "but my godmother has told me that you spoke to her about me at Ingatestone and said"—she hesitated—"that you wanted to take me back to France." She laughed lightly. "Of course I might have told you that I didn't want to go, but still it would be interesting to learn the reason why you have so suddenly changed your mind." She seemed quite amused now and bent forward confidingly. "You know, Monsieur, a girl is always flattered when she received a proposal, whether she is going to accept it or not."

The lines of Croupin's face were soft and gentle. "Mademoiselle," he said very solemnly, "I would ask you to become my wife this very moment were it not wrong that for the present I should ask you to link your name with mine." He reached over and took her hand. "Come, let me hold it, and I shall have courage to tell you everything."

The girl flushed. "But it's not going to be such a surprise as you think," she said quickly, "for I know you are that other Raphael who was put in prison. Your name was Croupin before you changed it."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Croupin, very aghast. "Who told you?"

"No one," scoffed the girl, "but I guessed it that night when General Lesage spoke about him at dinner. I had come to learn the kind of man you were by then, and the answers you gave were just what I should have expected of you."

Croupin's face set like a flint, and he let go her hand instantly. "Then you think I'm a bad man," he said grimly, "that I'm despicable altogether!"

"Certainly not," she replied warmly. "I was only meaning that you are brave and resourceful, and can meet any situation with courage." She spoke carelessly again. "As for any wrongs you have committed, I am sure you are sorry for them, and if it has been in your power you have atoned for them." She looked fearlessly at him. "Do you think I should have gone into the conservatory alone with you that night if I were despising you?" She spoke gently. "I was sorry for you."

Croupin's face was the very picture of astonishment, and then the stern lines faded from his face, and he looked very sad again.

The girl went on, "I am not quite a fool, Monsieur, and if I hadn't liked you I wouldn't have given you the encouragement that you may perhaps be imagining I have done." She tossed her head. "If he were as rich as Croesus I wouldn't marry a bad man and be made miserable for life."

Croupin spoke very gently. "It is well that they called you Angela," he said, "for you are as near being an angel as any woman can be." He reached for her hand again. "No, I am not a bad man, and if I had not been put in prison unjustly I should never have gone the way I did afterwards."

A long silence followed, and then Croupin went on—"I have just come from Mr. Fairfax, to whom I have told everything, and the position is this. The trial of that dreadful man will come on in a few weeks, and as I shall be one of the witnesses it is almost certain that they will have been making inquiries about me, and so when I go into the witness-box, to discredit the value of my evidence, they will force me to acknowledge that I have been in prison." He let go her hand. "And that is why I cannot ask you to be my wife until we see what happens."

He rose quickly to his feet. "And now, Mademoiselle, I must go, and if you do not see me for some weeks"—his voice shook a little—"you will understand why."

Angela rose up too, and stood regarding him with a curious expression upon her face.

"You are not very just, Monsieur," she said quietly, "for you take all the courage to yourself." Her eyes flashed. "Do you think I have had no courage in being seen about with a man whom I knew at any moment someone might recognise as having been branded as a thief."

Croupin flushed. "I don't quite understand what you mean," he stammered.

"Then you are very dense," she smiled, "and not nearly as intelligent as I thought you were." She held out her hand and added sweetly: "Goodbye, Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville. I see you prefer to fight your battles"—she hesitated a moment—"alone."

Croupin seized her hand almost roughly, and then when she tried to withdraw it would not let it go. "Tell me what you mean," he said hoarsely. "I am as a child where you are concerned. Come, I won't let you go until I know what you mean."

It was now Angela's turn to flush. "I mean, Monsieur," she replied very softly, "would it not be better for you to have some one by your side when your disgrace comes?" She drew herself up proudly. "I shall not be afraid of what people say."

There was no mistaking now what she meant, but for a long moment Croupin stood looking down into her eyes. Then very gently he drew her to him, and tilting up her chin, touched her lips lightly with his own. The kiss was a very short one, but a moment later he swung her up into his arms, and this time their lips met long and passionately.

So, for all ages have man and woman dreamed, and as long as time lasts will their dream continue to run its little course! The night will have no ending, the stars will never fade, and there will be no morning with the waning of desire.

And if Raphael Croupin had at last found a mistress who would lavish all her love upon him, he had surely also found one who would see that he walked henceforth in the straight and narrow way.

In the meantime the Commissioner of Police and Larose were closeted together, and they both looked troubled, for not half an hour previously the very startling news had come through that Sabine Guildford had had a stroke of apoplexy and died within three minutes.

"The medical officer told me last week," almost wailed the Commissioner, "that his blood-pressure was dangerously high, and he might go off in any excitement, but I certainly never expected this." He looked plaintively at Larose. "It couldn't have happened at a worse time, for our charging him to-morrow with the murders of that tea-broker and Clutterbuck would have just let the public know we are not such duds as they think we are." He scowled. "I wish to goodness now I had not listened to you, and had had him charged straightaway, when I wanted to."

Larose seemed in no way offended. "It wouldn't have been safe, sir," he smiled, "for we should never have caught Bascoigne if all that we knew about Guildford had been broadcast prematurely."

The Commissioner smiled back. "Yes, yes, you are quite right," he said. He laughed. "I'm greedy, and want all the fish in the basket." He became serious again. "But this means that Bascoigne's case will come on sooner than we thought, and it may even be taken this session."

"Well, we are all prepared except for the finger-print business," said Larose confidently, "and I somehow think that matter will not be so difficult to solve as we imagine."

* * *

A few weeks later, one cold and foggy morning, the stage was all set for the trial of Oscar Bascoigne, and surely never before had a greater crowd risen in that court than when Lord Arlingham, who was to try the case, entered.

Now there is always something very strange about the atmosphere of a Court of Justice when the matter at issue is one of life or death. It has a peculiarity all of its own, and to a thoughtful mind, with all its majesty and refinements, it harks back to the savagery from which the race has sprung. The culture and kindliness of our age are stripped ruthlessly of their veils, and, beholding forces that are almost elemental in their cruelty and their passion, we realise that from the whipping-post and the scaffold are still spoken the thousand and one commandments of our communal laws.

The beast of the jungle has met another beast more powerful, and that is all.

Yet, nevertheless, everything is so overlaid with such beauty and wealth of ritual that the brutality and horrors of the combat are all forgotten in the grandeur of the majesty of the law.

There are so many appeals to the imagination—in the hushed and awe-inspiring opening of the Court—in the dramatic entrance of the prisoner when all have resumed their seats—in the quaint and age-old phrasing of the indictment—and in the solemnity of the taking of the oaths.

Then we see the judge, enthroned as a great high-priest upon his dais, brave and magnificent in his wig and ermined gown; and below him the shining lights of the legal world, attired also in raiment to lift them above the common herd, who are to battle over the life of a man, and incidentally whose motor cars and whose town houses and country houses depend upon their prowess in the fight.

So, to the majority of the spectators, who by privilege or favour have secured seats in the court, a trial for murder presents the most intense drama of their lives, and with quickly beating hearts they stare wide-eyed at the prisoner, thrilling at the thought that they may be actually gazing upon a man who is standing in the very shadow of the valley of death. They will almost choke, too, with a terrifying yet sweet emotion if in the end the Judge puts on the black cap. The women among them are all well dressed, and probably many of them are dainty and pretty looking. They have brought vanity bags, and will powder their faces before the very eyes of the man who is about to be condemned. Some of them are delicately scented, too, and maybe the prisoner's last memory of womankind will be associated with the perfume from some chemist's shop.

And it was before an assembly such as this that Oscar Bascoigne mounted into the dock that morning to stand his trial upon the charges of having murdered Sir John Lorraine and Archdeacon Lendon.

He looked much better than he had done at Chelmsford, a little thinner, perhaps, but due probably to his enforced abstinence from any drug, much less strained and heavy about the eyes. He was dressed smartly, and, as before, looked the very type of an English country gentleman. He seemed in no way abashed at his position, and glanced round the court with an air of quiet and assured confidence.

Peter Drew was leading for the Crown, and a handsome-looking man in the late thirties, he had a fine Grecian profile, with a thoughtful and, in repose, rather gentle face. It was only when one took note of the mouth and chin that one could discern his latent strength of character.

Tresidder-Jarvis, also a King's Council was leading for the defence, and one of the most eminent members of his profession, he was a mighty fighter in the Criminal Courts. He was stout, with a massive head coming almost straight away from his shoulders, and he surveyed the world from under big and bushy eyebrows. He had the large and mobile lips of the orator.

There was a gentle whispering at the table as the charges were being read, and then, upon a nod from his lordship, Peter Drew rose instantly to his feet.

"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began in quiet and beautifully modulated tones, "never perhaps in the annals of all time has a stranger tale been told in any Court of Justice than I am going to tell you now, and its ramifications are so many that I have had considerable difficulty in determining which particular one to explore first. They go back to happenings that occurred nearly sixteen years ago, and they deal with matters of only a few weeks back." He spoke very solemnly. "There should, indeed, be four men, instead of one, arraigned for murder now before these Courts, but where the long arm of the Law has failed to reach the hand of God has struck, and the prisoner is the only one of them alive to-day."

He looked towards the jury. "But, notwithstanding we are concerned now only with these two specific charges laid against the prisoner, nevertheless to convince you of his guilt, I shall have many times to refer to the crimes of these others, because they and the prisoner undoubtedly constituted that gang of criminals, who, for months past, as you are well aware, have been terrorising the country with their deeds of dreadful violence."

His tone was easy and conversational. "Now once upon a time, and, indeed, up to a few weeks ago, there were four men who, among a number of others, used to gather in a shed in the backyard behind a marine store in Limehouse, kept by a Chinaman, called Ah Chung," and then he went on to describe the horrible nature of the entertainments provided, and to relate how these four men became acquainted with one another there. Then he told of three of them being ex-convicts living under assumed names, and who they were and for what offences they had been imprisoned. Finally, he disclosed the identity of the fourth man, Sir Charles Carrion, a once very eminent surgeon, but who only a few years back had been released from an asylum for the insane.

His voice became most impressive. "And in the light of events that followed we can see that in their warped and dreadful minds all these four men considered that upon certain and particular persons their downfalls or disgrace had, in the main, depended. The prisoner was incensed against Sir Charles Lorraine, the judge, before whom he was tried, and also against Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, who had led for the Crown at the trial. Dr. Libbeus nursed a relentless hatred against a brother practitioner, Dr. Bellew, because the latter had communicated with the authorities when the woman upon whom Libbeus had operated had died. Sabine Guildford had never forgotten that but for a certain Thomas Wiggins, a tea-broker, and Anthony Clutterbuck, a brother solicitor, he might have escaped all consequences of his embezzlement, and, lastly, Sir Charles Carrion was well aware that it was to Lord Burkington, a surgeon equally as eminent as himself, to whom he owed all his hospital appointments being taken away, and his certification for an asylum, as he was becoming insane."

He paused here to take a drink of water, and then went on: "So here we have what is undoubtedly the most dangerous of all combinations from a communal point of view—men of degraded minds, drug-takers, and almost madmen in their thoughts, in possession of ample means"—he nodded solemnly—"and obsessed with grievances and intense hatred of their fellow-men."

He looked up from his brief. "But now, my Lord, and gentlemen of the jury, the scene changes to another meeting place of these four men, and we are taken down to a little wayside inn about 40 miles from London"—he shook his head frowningly—"and we may never learn why they gathered there. Perhaps it was they did not trust one another as yet, perhaps even up to that time they did not know one another's real names. Anyhow, on Sunday, the 29th of June last, they all arrived at the Gibbet Inn, and there partook of lunch in the public room."

Then he went on to relate all that had happened at the inn that day, how Cynthia Cramm had come to hear scraps of their conversation, how she had run away from home, and how later she had told what she had overheard, but how no one had believed her, then how mysterious murder after murder occurring, she had suddenly become a person of great interest, but how all to no purpose the best detectives from Scotland Yard had tried to pick up a clue from her story.

"Then, by the 12th day of September, my lord and gentlemen of the jury," he cried, "five of the six imagined enemies of these four men had died violently and bloody deaths, Mr. Mortimer Fairfax being the only one to be left alive, and, in his stead, his half-brother, Archdeacon Lendon, who much resembled him, had been murdered by two bullets through the head."

A deep hush overhung the Court, and instead of the hundred and more men and women present there, from the dead silence it might have been an empty room.

Then Peter Drew, after referring to the attempts to bomb St. Paul's Cathedral and poison the Kingston reservoir, next proceeded to relate how a certain Cabinet Minister had happened to meet the ex-detective, Gilbert Larose, and had persuaded him to return to the Yard and give what assistance he could, how Larose had interviewed the little Cramm girl, and all that he had deduced from his conversation with her, how he had then called upon Lady Lorraine, and what had happened when he and Mr. Mortimer Fairfax met.

"Then at last," cried Peter Drew, "the authorities began to see light, and realised without any doubt that the unfortunate victim of each of these murders must have been the personal enemy of one or other of those miscreants who had entered into that dreadful pact of crime that Sunday at the Gibbett Inn."

Then the story went on how the voice of Sheldon-Brown had been found to be that of Bascoigne, and what had happened that night when Larose had effected an entry into the Crowborough house; how then through Alf. Flick Larose had got in touch with Mason, the estate agent of Mile End Road, and what part de Choisy-Hautville had played in obtaining an impression of his finger-prints; then how the finger-prints had proved to be those of Sabine Guildford, the ex-solicitor and ex-convict.

"Then two and two were very quickly put together," said Peter Drew, after he had related the discoveries of Larose at Leigh-on-sea, "and just as it had been surmised that the murdered Sir John Lorraine and Mr. Fairfax had been marked down by the prisoner, so it was concluded that Thomas Wiggins and Samuel Clutterbuck had been brought into the scheme of murder by Guildford"—he looked at the jury, and paused a long moment—"the confidant and associate of Mr. Sheldon-Brown."

Then came the story of the burglary and murder at Rostrellor Court, and how at once freed from their fears of alarming the other members of the gang by any reference to the previous outrages that had taken place, the authorities had made a lightning arrest of Guildford. Then he told of Larose's suspicions of Sir Charles Carrion, of the fire in the operating theatre and all that happened after, including the discovery of the private bomb factory and the bags of arsenic similar to the one that had been brought to the Kingston Reservoir.

"But still," said Peter Drew, "there was the prisoner, the leader of the gang, in a position where the authorities could not be absolutely certain of obtaining a conviction, for they had up to then no direct evidence against him." He nodded grimly. "So being confident that he was only waiting for the opportunity to exact his second vengeance and murder Mr. Fairfax, they set a trap for him"—he paused dramatically—"and he fell into it."

Then he related the arrangements made between Larose and Mortimer Fairfax, and all that had happened a few nights later at Ingatestone, ending with the seizing of the prisoner who had, however, tried so desperately to evade capture that he had not hesitated to fire his rifle three times with the deliberate intention of committing murder.

He looked again towards the jury, and raised his voice to emphasise the significance of what he had just told them. "Mark you," he cried, "the police were sure that it would be the murderer of Sir John Lorraine who would attempt to murder Mr. Mortimer Fairfax, and setting this trap to catch him"—he paused a long moment—"it was the prisoner, the very man whom they were expecting to get hold of, who fell into their hands!"

He paused for a moment to let the information sink in, and then continued. "Next we see from the visitors' book at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate that Mr. Sheldon-Brown and Sir Charles Carrion arrived there on August 24th"—his voice was calm and passionless—"and upon the 26th Lord Burkington of The Hall there was murdered."

A long silence ensued here and every eye in the Court was turned upon the prisoner, but the latter appeared to be quite unaware of their scrutiny, and was regarding Peter Drew very thoughtfully.

"Next," went on the K.C., "we come to the murder of Dr. Bellew of Great Leighs in Essex, and here we learn Sir Charles and Dr. Libbeus put up at the Red Lion Hotel in Chelmsford, seven miles from Great Leighs, on September 3rd and left again the following day." He spoke in a calm and business-like tone. "Quick work that, for Dr. Bellew was murdered upon the morning of September 4th. However, there was probably no difficulty experienced there, for the old gentleman was caught alone at the far end of his long garden, when he was killed."

He looked up at the jury. "I have only just referred to this murder of Dr. Bellew, because it was so typical of the methods of the gang—putting up at a hotel in the neighbourhood, accomplishing their fell purpose, and then clearing off as soon as possible."

He took a drink of water again. "And now we come to the last two murders and we learn that on September 10th the prisoner and a Mr. Edward Mason, whom you will remember was the ex-convict Guildford, put up at the River Hotel at Leigh-on-sea, and they occupied two bedrooms and a private sitting-room," he paused here—"that all looked straight down upon the house and garden of Mr. Thomas Wiggins."

He spoke almost as if the recital of the stories of so many crimes were becoming monotonous. "Well, two days later upon the 13th, Anthony Clutterbuck, the solicitor, was murdered upon Canvey Island, a few miles away, and upon the evening of the following day"—he struck his hand upon the table before him—"the very first time that Thomas Wiggins had set foot out of his garden for more than a week, he was stabbed to death in a shelter upon the Esplanade."

He took a few moments' rest and then returned to quiet and even tones. "And now, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, we are brought up against a fact that will bring home to you most clearly why, apart from the other reasons I have enumerated, the authorities, with all their evidence against the prisoner, were so loath to lay hands upon him at first." He spoke very slowly. "It was this. When Inspector Larose was hot upon the heels of the prisoner, and had been quite certain that this Mr. Sheldon-Brown, of Crowborough and Mayfair, was the ex-convict Oscar Bascoigne, and he had managed to obtain, in the way I have told you, his finger-marks, upon their being photographed"—he paused dramatically—"it was found that they were not those of the company-promoter who had been sentenced to penal servitude fifteen and a half years ago."

A thrill of intense excitement ran round the Court, and it was seen that the prisoner was smiling ironically.

"Yes," went on Peter Drew confidingly, "the facial photograph of Oscar Bascoigne that was taken at the time of his conviction, allowing for the lapse of years, was undoubtedly that of Sheldon-Brown, but the finger-prints and the body measurements recorded did not in any one respect agree with those of the prisoner." He shook his head. "The files were checked most carefully, but the fact remained that unless a ghastly mistake had been made"—he shook his head again—"and they don't make mistakes like that in the finger print department of Scotland Yard, Sheldon-Brown, and Oscar Bascoigne were not one and the same man."

He continued. "As you can imagine, the authorities were dumbfounded, but then realising that the hundred and one similar tastes, habits, and peculiarities, and also the recurring attacks of malaria that I have mentioned to you are common to Sheldon-Brown and the prisoner, could not by any possibility be mere coincidences, they set to work to find out what had happened, on the assumption"—he spoke very sternly—"that the records had been tampered with, and tampered with because some one had been paid well to do it."

"So knowing that the prisoner was a very wealthy man and in the position of being able to offer a bribe of so substantial a nature that it would have been a great temptation to any employee, and knowing also that he had arrived in this country from South America about four years ago, they started to make secret inquiries about all who had been working in the finger print department during that time." He nodded towards the jury. "They were curious if any among them had been living as if he had come into money."

He took a sip of water and went on briskly. "And they were soon rewarded for their pains, for almost at once it was remembered of one of the officials who had occupied a very responsible position in the department, that about three years ago he had been dismissed under very peculiar circumstances."

He gave a quick glance up at the prisoner, who in the imagination of many in the Court had gone a little pale and lost something of his quiet assurance. "This man," he went on, "had been in the department for 17 years, and had always shown himself a trustworthy and capable servant. Then all suddenly he started to neglect his duties and absent himself without adequate explanation. Also, he took to coming to work under the influence of liquor, and finally he struck a superior officer and was then, of course, summarily dismissed." He looked significantly at the jury. "In effect, he deliberately made them send him away."

Peter Drew raised one long forefinger impressively. "This man was traced with difficulty, for he had been killed in a motor accident last May, but what was found out was this. About three weeks after he had been thrown out of employment, to the great astonishment of his relations and every one who knew him, he had left his house in Balham, and, paying cash down, had bought a poultry farm near Saffron Walden. Then from the moment of his taking over, this concern appeared to have developed into an extraordinary success, for its purchaser at once started to live well and was able to send his two boys, he was a widower, to a good school in the neighbourhood." He thumped again upon the table. "But my lord and gentlemen of the jury, I shall bring before you the manager of the National and Provincial Bank in Saffron Walden and he will tell you that this man, within a few days of his coming to live in the neighbourhood, deposited with him Government bonds to bearer of no less value than the sum of £9000."

He folded up his brief and sat down. He had spoken for longer than five hours, and it being nearly 5 o'clock the Court rose until the following day.


CHAPTER XVI.—THE BATTLE CONTINUED.

THE following day, all day long, a procession of witnesses trooped in and out of the witness-box; the head of the finger-print department of Scotland Yard, the manager from the bank at Saffron Walden, the one-time valet of Oscar Bascoigne, and half a dozen city men who had been acquainted with the company promoter in former days.

Tresidder-Jarvis seemed to be little interested in any of them, for of some he asked nothing at all, and to the others he put, perhaps, only a single question.

Cynthia Cramm appeared presently and she entered the witness-box with an aplomb that made every one smile. She told all that had happened that Sunday at the Gibbett Inn, and during her subsequent association with Larose, and how finally she had picked out the prisoner's voice at once, when standing out of sight of every one in the corridor she had heard the head warder carry on a number of conversations with other prisoners through the opened doors of the rooms in which they were confined.

Tresidder-Jarvis cross-examined her at some length, but could not shake her evidence in any way. Then he asked finally with an awe-inspiring frown: "And do you actually want this Court to believe that after listening to that man's voice in your father's inn for a few minutes last June—you were actually able to recognise it again, when you stood in that corridor the other day after five months had passed away?"

"Yes," replied Cynthia convincingly, "I recognised it at once."

"Then you must be a very remarkable young woman," said Tresidder-Jarvis dryly, and then as he prepared to resume his seat, he added sarcastically, "I suppose it must be a gift you have inherited from your father who has listened to so many voices in his bar, calling for beer."

"No," commented Cynthia pertly, as she was bustling out of the witness box, "I get it from my mother who was a telephonist for ten years before she married."

Larose was the next witness, and a thrill of expectation ran round the Court when his name was called. Here was the star witness for the Crown, and the man who had sent so many people to the scaffold that he was known as the Angel of Death. Besides, who had forgotten his romantic marriage to the rich and beautiful Lady Ardane, such a little while ago?

Larose looked very spick and span, with his handsome face tanned to a rich bronze by his many journeyings in an open touring car. He made an ideal witness and under the skilful questioning of Peter Drew the whole tale was soon told of all that had happened, from his first meeting with Cynthia Cramm to when he had been knocked down by the prisoner at Ingatestone.

Tresidder-Jarvis smiled pleasantly when he rose up to cross-examine. "Now I take it, Mr. Larose," he said quietly, "that it is for no matter of remuneration that you have been working on the case for the authorities! You have just taken it on, so to speak, for the love of the thing?" and when Larose answered, "Yes," he added: "It is a sort of sport to you?"

Larose shook his head. "No, not exactly," he replied, "but it has been my life's work, and it still appeals to me."

Tresidder-Jarvis nodded as if he quite understood. "But of course you are anxious to show the Yard, and incidentally the public, too, that you are still the same old Gilbert Larose,"—he smiled ironically—"the man who never fails!" He paused a moment and the smile left his face. "Then that being so, according to your lights, you have done everything in your power to produce evidence against the prisoner!"

"I have done everything in my power," corrected Larose, "to find out everything he has been doing."

"And you have not been too scrupulous in your methods either, have you," suggested the K.C. with the fire of battle now beginning to smoulder in his eyes. "In fact, not to mince words, you have resorted to criminal means yourself."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed Larose, very surprised.

"Yes, oh! oh!" repeated Tresidder-Jarvis sarcastically, and then his jaw shot out and his voice rose ominously. "You broke into the prisoner's house, sir, like a common felon yourself, with no mandate from the authorities, and you abstracted therefrom property belonging to the prisoner." His eyes glared. "You took a paper from his desk! Now, do you attempt to justify that?"

"Yes," replied Larose boldly. "The need was urgent and the occasion was so opportune that in the public interest I acted without authority. Murders were being committed, bombs were being——"

"That'll do, thank you," interrupted Tresidder-Jarvis rudely. "You are not in the witness-box to make speeches, but to answer questions," and Larose, with a smile, at once subsided into silence.

The K.C. went on very sternly. "And your assistant, your accomplice that night was a"—he looked down at his notes and spoke with intense sarcasm—"A Monsieur Raphael de Choisy-Hautville. Was he, a foreigner, acting under the instructions of the authorities here in investigating this case?" he asked incredulously.

"No," replied Larose instantly, "but he is friend of mine, and meeting him accidentally upon the day when I was invited to come back to the Yard, I suggested that as he had nothing particular to do at that moment he should help me."

"What is his occupation?" was the next question asked very quietly.

"He does nothing. He is a well-to-do man of independent means."

"But now, did you consider it wise," asked Tresidder-Jarvis with a frown, "to take him into your confidence, when you were working for the Crown?" and when Larose had replied "Yes," he broke suddenly into a voice that rose stridently through the Court. "But are you aware, Mr. Gilbert Larose," he thundered, "that this man, this friend of yours, is an ex-convict, who for years has been the target of the French authorities, the Surete Generale of Paris?"

"Yes," nodded Larose, "quite aware."

Tresidder-Jarvis half-closed his eyes and proceeding to ask the next question, his loud tone subsided all at once like the dying away of a storm. "Then for what purpose did you take him with you, to Crowborough?" he asked, almost gently.

"To see if he could open the safe," replied Larose candidly. "He has considerable knowledge of safes generally."

"Ah!" came a long-drawn exclamation of the great K.C., as he turned round to glance at the jury. "Considerable knowledge of safes!" He looked back at Larose. "I expect so."

He picked up his brief and after considering it for a few moments passed quickly on. "And so, after your interview with that very remarkable young lady, Miss Cramm," he said, with his lips curving scornfully, "upon the strength of a soiled pair of boots, a voice, and the reference to a razor, an unpleasant smell, and a Chinaman from Hankow, you have been able to adduce all this guilt against the prisoner!"

Then for nearly two hours he kept Larose in the witness-box, but it was generally conceded he did not get much change out of him, and had not indeed shaken his evidence upon any point.

The next, and as it turned out, the last witness for the day, was Raphael Croupin, and another deep thrill ran round the Court when, upon his name being called, he entered and took his stand in the witness box.

"Oh! what a good-looking man!" murmured one woman, and another exclaimed: "Poor fellow! he probably doesn't know what is in store for him."

Croupin's dark eyes flashed curiously up at the gallery, and his handsome face lighted up as they fastened upon Angela, who was sitting there with her hands clenched so tightly that the nails almost bit into the flesh.

Peter Drew took him in hand, and quickly drew out the salient parts of his association with Larose, and the part he had taken in getting in touch with Guildford.

Tresidder-Jarvis rose to cross-examination with all the delight in his massive face of a terrier about to worry a rat.

"Monsieur de Choisy-Hautville," he began, rolling out the words as if he took great pleasure in their enunciation, "we have heard that Mr. Larose took you with him when that night he broke into the prisoner's residence in Crowborough." His voice was silky and quite innocent of offence. "Well, tell the Court why he took you down with him."

"To see if I could manage to open the safe," replied Croupin at once.

Tresidder-Jarvis's voice was still pleasant. "And what experience, pray, had you in opening safes?" he asked gently.

"I am the patentee of a certain lock," replied Croupin confidingly, "and one of the largest shareholders in a safe manufacturing company, Le Tourjours Sauf, of Rue de la Lune, Paris."

"Oh!" grunted the K.C. and his face hardened, as if he were very much annoyed, "then what was your occupation before you came into this estate that we are given to understand you now possess?"

Croupin's reply was quite ready. "I was a dealer in paintings," he said, "an expert in precious stones, and"—he smiled, "I taught music."

"Is de Choisy-Hautville your real name?" asked the K.C. carelessly.

"It is now," replied Croupin, looking interestedly round the Court. "It was my mother's maiden name and I adopted it six months ago, when I came into the money." He looked quite innocently at the K.C. "Before that I was Raphael Croupin."

"And did you change your name, Monsieur," asked Tresidder-Jarvis silkily, "because of this estate you inherited?"

"No," replied Croupin, "that had nothing to do with it."

"Then for what reason did you change it?" asked the K.C.

Croupin's face was pathetic. "Because I have been in prison," he replied sadly, "and I thought if I changed my name people would forget me sooner."

A deep hush filled the Court, and for the moment Tresidder-Jarvis was in such a fury of annoyance that he could not pick up his train of thought. He could see now that a trap had been set for him and he had fallen into it like the veriest tyro at the bar.

His next remark was almost brutal in its rudeness. "You need not pull faces like that," he said loudly, "for it doesn't impress the Court," and then before Peter Drew could interfere to protect his witness he blurted out roughly: "And if you have been in prison only once, you have been tried many times, have you not?"

"Three," replied Croupin promptly, "and I was acquitted every time."

Then for half an hour he tried to catch Croupin tripping, but the latter never made a mistake, and in the end Tresidder-Jarvis sat down looking hot and out of temper.

Peter Drew at once rose up to re-examine. "Arising out of the questions my learned friend has just asked you," he said, "tell the Court when it was you were in prison and what for."

"It was ten years, ago," replied Croupin, "when I was eighteen, and I was found guilty of stealing the jewels of my hostess in a country house. I was sentenced to two years' imprisonment."

"Did you serve the whole term?" asked Peter Drew.

"No, I was released after one year and one month," replied Croupin, "because the man who had been the chief witness against me was himself caught breaking into another house. He was shot dead."

"And these are the papers substantiating your statements?" asked Peter Drew, handing up a small parcel of faded newspapers for him to examine.

"Yes," nodded Croupin, and the papers were at once passed up to the Bench.

"And one more question," said Peter Drew. "Why is it, in your opinion, these three other charges have been brought against you?"

"Because," replied Croupin, "it has become a sort of legend in my country that when any art treasures are stolen it must be I who have done it. It has been so ever since I succeeded in getting in the Louvre one night, and affixed a notice to a painting that it was not a genuine Rubens, but only a copy." He smiled. "I was apprehended in the morning, when trying to get away."

That ended the day's proceedings, and Croupin's reward for the ordeal he had gone through came that night when Angela put her arms about his neck and told him she was proud of him, and that he need never be ashamed any more. Croupin sighed heavily.

Then during the ensuing two days witness after witness stepped into the witness-box and corroborated every statement Peter Drew had made in his address.

Again Tresidder-Jarvis showed little interest and either let them go altogether, or else just asked a few what seemed to be quite unimportant questions.

Then on the fifth day he rose to open the case for the defence, and directly he began to speak the spectators were of opinion they were going to enjoy themselves.

"My lord and gentlemen of the jury," he began, "in the opening words of his address for the Crown my learned friend announced that the story he was going to unfold to you would be extraordinary, but surely it is much more extraordinary still that he ever stood up to tell it, for notwithstanding the eloquence of his address and the large number of witnesses who have been brought before you, we have seen he is not in possession of one single atom of convincing proof against the prisoner."

He smiled sarcastically. "Of course it is most unfortunate for him that all the witnesses whose testimony would have been vital to the charge have passed away. The Governor of Dartmoor Prison is dead, two of the most important officials in charge there are dead also, Sir Charles Carrion is dead, Sabine Guildford is dead, Dr. Libbeus is dead, the mythical receiver of the enormous bribe is dead, and even the Chinaman, Ah Chung, who might perhaps have been able to tell us something, is sleeping with his ancestors."

He looked up at the jury. "Now I will at once take the question of identity, for it is undeniable that if the prisoner cannot be shown to be the ex-convict Bascoigne, then there is no conceivable motive for the crimes and the while elaborate edifice of guilt that my learned friend has built up topples ignominiously to the ground."

He punctuated his words with his hand. "Now to every individual who has been brought here to testify that after the long lapse of years he can recognise the prisoner as Oscar Bascoigne, it has been first suggested the fact that it is so. In effect, to each of them it has been said. 'Here is Oscar Bascoigne whom you once knew and we want you now to recognise him for us!'" He emphasised his point. "You see the idea has been put in their minds, and, admitted that there are certain physical points of resemblance between the two, what is more natural than that they have fallen into the trap?"

He proceeded to elaborate his contention for a few minutes, and then nodded confidentially to the jury. "So you see we are fully justified in regarding with a very grave suspicion these wholesale recognitions with which we have been regaled."

He laughed scornfully. "And how has he tried to induce you to believe that it is so." He lowered his voice and went on, speaking very slowly and in mock solemnity now. "An employee in the finger-print department was dismissed three years ago, and it has just been discovered that later he was in the possession of a poultry farm and £9000!" He paused for a moment and looked smilingly towards the jury box. "Yes, he had not had money left him and kept it quiet—the head of his department told you he was a silent and reserved man—he had not perhaps had £5 upon two horses in a double at long odds, nor yet again he was not sharing in some good prize in the Irish Sweepstakes." He looked very amused. "No, none of these things happened to him as might have happened to you or me, but he had been bribed"—his big frame shook with merriment—"just bribed."

He became serious again. "But I will not labour the point, for it is as certain as anything is certain in the world that the prisoner is not Oscar Bascoigne, and that, therefore, if he is guilty of these crimes with which he is charged—they were motiveless and committed without reason."

He picked up his notes. "And now we come to the Gibbett Inn and the story of Cynthia Cramm and of all she overheard and her subsequent recognition of the voice of the prisoner as being one of the four men." He spoke very sternly. "I don't believe a word of it." He looked up at the jury. "You were able to form your opinion of her character from her demeanour in the witness-box! A pert, precocious child delighting to be in the limelight and filled with her own importance! No doubt she made up the story of the intended killings she pretended she had overheard, partly to discount the cool reception she would be receiving from her parents upon her return home. Then, when she read that murders had actually taken place you can imagine her saying: 'Yes, and those were the very names I heard mentioned, Burkington and Clutterbuck. I told you so,' and her father and the village policeman having themselves no remembrance of the exact names, immediately accepted as Gospel what the girl said"—he shrugged his shoulders—"and so the story grew and grew."

Then he went on to say that when suspicions, conjectures, and surmises were put away, he was in complete accord with his learned friend. The prisoner certainly did frequent that shed at Ah Chung's, along with many others, but being a spectator of cockfights did not make a man a murderer, such exhibitions were not approved of in these, perhaps, too squeamish times, but then it must be remembered that when the greatness of this great country of ours was being built up in the face of the enmity of the whole world—they were the most favoured pastimes of the people and patronised even by the highest in the land.

Then, too, those visits to Eastbourne, Harrogate, and Leigh-on-sea were frankly admitted. The prisoner often went to Eastbourne, and Harrogate was Sir Charles Carrion's favourite resort, and it was just a coincidence that murders were done when they were visiting those places together. It was a coincidence also that the prisoner was at Leigh-on-sea when those other men were killed.

He broke off here and nodded towards Peter Drew. "My friend may laugh," he said dryly, "but such coincidences as these are occurring every day." He turned towards the jury-box again. "Why, I am told one of the ushers in this very court, whose name is Gale, drew the horse Hurricane in the last Derby sweep and sold half of his ticket to a man called Breeze!"

He reiterated that the case for the Crown was all built up upon conjectures and they had no proof for instance that Carrion bore any animosity against Lord Burkington, or, indeed, had even been aware that his lordship had had any part in getting him put in an asylum. They had no proof either that Guildford had nursed any gnawing hatred against two of the many who had given evidence against him when he had been put on trial.

Unhappily, it was quite useless to put the prisoner into the witness box, for the levelling of this charge against him had made him a nervous wreck, and for the time being his memory could not be relied upon, and he could remember very little of his early days.

As far, however, as could be gathered, his life-history was that he had been born in Lagos 45 years ago, with his father the manager of the mine there, but the family, moving to San Francisco, he was the only one to survive the great earthquake of 1906, and he had no relations living in any other part of the world. Then for 12 years he had followed the sea, but later he had been one of a party prospecting for copper in the interior of the Argentine, and finally 19 years ago he had made his way to Santiago and there, after accumulating a large fortune, he had remained, until he had sailed for England a little over four years ago.

The great King's Counsel folded up his brief and added finally: "The prisoner is not Bascoigne, and that being so, the whole case for the Crown breaks down. I shall call no witnesses for there is nothing to disprove."

Peter Drew's address in reply was brief but most incisive. He laughed to scorn the idea of Tresidder-Jarvis's coincidences and insisted that if any improbabilities had been put forward to sustain the charge of the Crown, surely they were as nothing to the improbabilities that formed the whole basis of the defence. The prisoner had admittedly been a close associate of bombers, poisoners and murderers, and from the evidence that had been given it was impossible he had not known of their activities and taken part in them himself. Indeed, he was probably the worst of them all. Bascoigne or Sheldon-Brown, his hands were stained in blood, and he implored the jury not to let loose this monster in human form upon the community again.

Tresidder-Jarvis, having called no witnesses, had the last word to the jury, and reiterating over and over again that the prisoner must be acquitted because as Sheldon-Brown there was no motive for him to have committed any murder, and the evidence that he had done so that had been given for the Crown was the weakest that had ever been put forward in a court of law.

The judge summed up long and carefully, leaning to neither one side nor the other, but finally admonishing the jury that if there was the very slightest doubt in their minds they must acquit the prisoner.

The jury retired at half past three, but having come to no agreement by six o'clock they were locked up for the night. Then at noon the following day, and later again at four o'clock, the foreman intimated to his lordship that there was no possibility of their agreeing, and so finally they were discharged, and the prisoner recommitted for trial at the next session.


CHAPTER XVII.—THE HANGMAN'S KNOT.

The day following upon the trial the Chief Commissioner of Police was furious, for it had become known that but for the dissension of two of the jurymen the verdict would have been guilty upon both charges, without any hesitation. One of the dissentients, too, was a crank who ought never to have been empanelled, for he objected to capital punishment upon principle, and the other had taken the stand that although things certainly looked very suspicious, yet he would never hang a dog upon circumstantial evidence alone.

Larose, however, was still bright and smiling. "Never mind, sir," he said trying to hearten the Commissioner, "we'll be more careful in challenging the jury next time, and may get him after all."

"But I am always frightened of these disagreements," frowned the Commissioner, "for they tend to make the next jury nervous, and you'll always find that one disagreement is likely to be followed by another." He shrugged his shoulders, "Then the Crown drops the case and proceeds no further."

Then in the weeks that followed, for the second trial was listed to begin early in February, both sides were busy. The Crown sent over to Lagos and Santiago to determine what truth there was in the statements that had just been forwarded by the defence and Messrs. Grundy and Grundy, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, acting for the prisoner, were likewise at work in the same directions.

Bascoigne had many interviews with his legal advisers, and upon one occasion he had a long conversation also, in the presence of a warder, with a well-dressed man who purported to be an old friend of his. What they said the warder did not know, for they spoke in a foreign language, but as he caught the word 'Espagnol' several times he judged they must be speaking in Spanish.

At length the second trial came on, and it followed very much the same course as the first, except that the Crown now brought up all they had been able to find out about Bascoigne's alleged place of birth and the date of his arrival in Santiago. But the information gathered was most unsatisfactory upon both points, for while it had certainly been ascertained that a man called Richard Brown had at one time been the manager of a tin mine near Lagos, as could be substantiated by that name appearing upon an old mining prospectus, still the few who remembered him were certain he had had no wife or children, and neither was there any evidence of any birth having been registered there. As to the exact year when a Thomas Sheldon-Brown first appeared upon the scene at Santiago no one could say with any certainty.

And it was the same with the defence, for they admitted they had no witnesses to testify upon the prisoner's behalf. The population of Santiago, they averred, was so floating that although many remembered Sheldon-Brown as a big and daring speculator, they were none of them prepared to swear when he came there.

The trial dragged on for eight days and then as the Commissioner had anticipated, the jury disagreed again.

"And that's the end of it," he sighed the same evening to Larose. "They won't try him a third time, but will just drop the case." He nodded solemnly. "And then you look out, my friend, for you'll be a marked man. I could only get into the trial once, for a couple of hours, but I don't forget the way the wretch kept looking in your direction." He held up his finger warningly. "He'll get you if he can, you and your wife and that little daughter of yours."

"Oh! We shall be all right, sir," replied Larose with an assurance, however, that he did not feel. "I've taken all precautions in case he did get off, and we are all prepared."

And very soon Larose had good reason to rejoice that he had anticipated what might happen, for two days later the Crown entered a nolle prosequi, and, the Ingatestone charge being dropped also, Bascoigne was once more a free man.

The Commissioner immediately rang up Carmel Abbey to give the news to Larose, also adding pathetically, "And I have just made certain of the rumour that it was only one of the jury who disagreed this time, an uneducated fellow, who works in the meat market. But for him a unanimous verdict of guilty would have been returned. It is most mortifying to us all."

And it was certainly particularly mortifying to Larose, for he could not help being aware that the authorities, and indeed the public generally, had all along realised that it was upon the evidence obtained by him that the charges against the prisoner would be sustained or would fall.

"L'Affaire Larose," as one of the newspapers had humorously referred to the trial, and upon the Crown entering their nolle prosequi he saw that same afternoon that the Daily Cry had headed one of its columns, "The Great International Detective Fails at Last."

The next day he received an anonymous letter, post-marked London and made up of words and letters clipped laboriously from some newspaper and gummed on to a sheet of good-class notepaper. "Look out, you devil," it read, "for it'll be your turn next." He did not doubt from whom it came for the envelope and paper were of a blue colour and an Egyptian cigarette was enclosed, of the same brand as those which he had seen in the drawer of Bascoigne's desk.

Then a sinister rumour began to circulate in the city, for it was whispered the last jury had been 'got at' and one of them bribed. At any rate it was stated that the one man among them who had disagreed had done so most unreasonably, just contenting himself with insisting over and over again that his vote was for not guilty, and yet refusing to give any reason for his opinion or enter into any argument at all.

His identity becoming known to an enterprising pressman, the latter had tried to interview him at his house, but had been received with angry renunciation and threatened with immediate violence if he did not clear out. The man still continued to work at the meat market, but refused to discuss the trial with any one.

Then ensued a very anxious time for Larose, for he made no attempt to deceive himself about the danger they were all in at the Abbey. Bascoigne was a madman, and, as such, might even be willing to sacrifice his own life to obtain revenge.

So the servants were in part taken into their confidence and with the explanation given them that for some fancied wrong an attempt to injure their master or mistress or their little daughter might be made by a lunatic at any time, warned that a most careful watch must be set.

The gates leading into the Abbey were from then always kept closed unless the lodge-keeper was opening them; barbed wire was fixed all along the walls surrounding the grounds, and during the day a man, with a rifle handy, was stationed on duty among the trees. At night three big wolf-hounds roamed at their will, well-muzzled, however, so that they should not pick up any poison-baits thrown over for them.

In the meanwhile Mr. Sheldon-Brown had returned to his Crowborough residence upon the afternoon of his release, like a savage and sullen dog slinking stiff and sore into his kennel after a good beating.

Although no charge had been proved against him he nevertheless knew that in the eyes of the world he was a leper, and, imagining that every one whom he encountered was aware who he was, he had left London at the earliest possible moment.

His old servants had gone, leaving without the wages due to them and telling every one they would not stop another night in the house with him for a thousand pounds, and so he found the place empty when he arrived. He had opened the front door with the key in his left-hand and an automatic pistol in his right. Then room by room he had gone through the house in the same stealthy manner until he was assured that there was no one there and above all—not Larose.

That night he drugged himself to sleep with brandy and opiates, and the next day started upon the task of arranging his domestic affairs, according to what he realised must henceforth be his mode of life.

He intended to cut himself off from all communication with the town, and as far as was practical obtain all his supplies from the city. He would pay no visits and receive none and, above all, he would fortify his house, for if Larose was afraid of Bascoigne so equally was Mr. Sheldon-Brown now afraid of Larose.

In the interval between the two trials, in the course of many conversations with the warders, he had heard a good deal about Larose and, among other things, had learnt that it was reputed the one-time detective would never leave a man whom he had once come to believe was guilty. The warders, with many sly smiles, had hinted also that it was supposed to be his delight to take the law into his own hands if he could not get the man he was after in a lawful way.

Then in about a fortnight Mr. Brown had provided for everything, and was settling down to a life of severe and monotonous seclusion.

After considerable trouble, for directly they had learnt who was wanting them, several eligible parties had immediately cried off, he had succeeded in obtaining new servants, consisting of a Scotch family, father, mother, and daughter, whom he had engaged at a very high rate of wage.

This family knew all about him, and, having read almost every word that had been written about both trials, the older two, at any rate, were taking no chances.

The husband, who acted as butler, a dour, poker-faced man from Inverness, always carried a cheap pistol about with him in his hip pocket, and his wife, the cook-housekeeper, was never very far away from a big skewer that she kept handy on the kitchen dresser. Only the daughter seemed to have no fear, and, a fine, buxom lass, she often made eyes at her master, in the hope that he might die one day and leave her something in his will. From the notice Mr. Brown took of her, however, it almost seemed that he was unaware of her existence.

The house was now well guarded, for every door and window had its own alarm, and all the windows on the ground floor had high steel shutters that were swung to and barred at night. The front door had now another lock, and no would-be intruder could open it with a skeleton key.

The garden was left neglected. Weeds, inches high, now grew upon the paths and the beautiful flowers, of which their master had once been so proud, bloomed uncared for and in disarray.

Then in the weeks that followed, Mr. Brown was always distant and short of speech with his servants. He never spoke to them except to give an order, and then he gave it with a scowl as if he grudged the words he uttered.

He rarely went out into the garden, but every morning would proceed into his garage and make sure his car was ready for instant service, testing the pressure of the tyres and letting the engine run for a few minutes.

The rest of the day, except for coming out for scanty and hurried meals, he would spend in his study, with the door locked so that he should not be disturbed. There, leaning back in a big arm-chair for hours and hours he would brood, staring into vacancy, or again, he would seat himself at his desk and write feverishly, but in a beautiful copper-plate handwriting, in a thick morocco-bound book that he always carried about with him, and never for one moment let out of his sight.

Larose was always the obsession of his mind, and fearful that the one-time detective might be on the watch for him, he never by any chance took a step outside the house after dark. He nearly always, however, kept very late hours; and then above the curtains of his study windows, until long after the chimes of midnight had struck, a thin streak of light would filter through outside.

Always expecting that some one would attempt to break in, the slightest sound would make him start and lift his head, but then after a few moments he would remember the steel shutters and closely barred doors, and with a loaded automatic upon the desk before him, his mind would sink to rest again and he would feel assured that no danger would come near him.

Night and day he nursed a dreadful hatred as he thought of how Larose had tracked him down and so nearly brought him to the scaffold, and often with a large ordnance map of Norfolk before him his eyes would light up balefully as he ran his fingers in and out among the little by-roads between the towns and villages there. Then, too, he would mutter a lot to himself, and his face was not a pleasant one to see.

He still took cocaine, and now drank copiously of brandy.

Such was his uneventful daily life, and then one morning in the beginning of April, after a very restless night, he rang for the butler and announced curtly that he was going away, it might be for a day, it might be for a week. Then ten minutes later his amazed domestics, peeping from the kitchen window, saw him drive off in his car.

That same afternoon, driving his wife and the children back from Norwich where they had been spending the day, and when not far from the entrance to the abbey grounds, Larose's heart gave a great bound as a grey limousine flashed up towards them and then quickly passed by, for he had thought for the second that its driver was Bascoigne. He had only, however, had a very fleeting glimpse of him, and a minute later he believed he must have been mistaken, for this man was more evil-looking than Bascoigne had ever been, even upon that night when such violent hands had been laid upon him at Ingatestone.

But the next afternoon, to his great alarm, Croupin ringing him up from Norwich, told him excitedly that but a few minutes ago he had seen Bascoigne coming out of a gun-smith's shop there. He had, however, not taken in who it was until he had driven the length of the street, and then it had come to him in a flash that it was Bascoigne, and Bascoigne clean-shaven!

"And, my dear friend," went on Croupin, "he looks awful now, with heavy, sodden eyes, and such a wicked looking face."

Larose dismissed the matter quickly, lest his wife should come into the hall, and asked laughingly how Croupin was enjoying his honeymoon, whereupon Croupin, who was still in the seventh heaven of rapture—he had only been married a fortnight—gave him a ten minutes description of Angela's charms, declaring that with each hour he was finding her the more and more perfect.

The master of Carmel Abbey was very troubled when he hung up the receiver. It might mean nothing that Bascoigne had been in the neighbourhood, and yet—well, they could only wait and watch.

And they had not long to wait, for three nights later when Larose and his wife were at dinner, two bullets in quick succession came crashing through the windows and buried themselves in the wall. Then came the sounds of a rifle being fired not very far away.

The butler, an ex-service man, took in the situation like lightning, and sprang over and switched off the lights.

"Good man!" exclaimed Larose quietly, "but I don't think he'll dare to fire again." He moved over to his wife's side by the light of the fire and pressing her hand, added smilingly, "And that'll be a lesson to us, dear. We'll have dark curtains up everywhere to-morrow."

Then he darted out to the 'phone and getting through to the Norwich police told them quickly what had happened. "Don't lose a minute," he snapped, "and you may perhaps get him. He'll be alone in a grey limousine."

But although a cordon was instantly thrown all round the main roads, no grey car containing any such person as Larose had described was held up that night.

Mrs. Larose bore up bravely and made light of the whole matter. Larose, however, was in a fever of apprehension about her, for only a few days previously she had become aware she was going to have another baby.

That night it was many hours before Larose got to sleep, and lying by her side and listening to her tranquil breathing he considered in a thousand ways how he could protect her from further shocks. He fell asleep at last and dreamed that sitting wigged and gowned upon the Bench, he was presiding over a Court of Justice, peopled only, however, with dark shadows.

Nothing more happened the following day and the next and the next. "And that's all he'll do," said Larose reassuringly to his wife. "I've found out he's back again in Crowborough, and from the life he's leading there he'll probably soon break up altogether. One of his maids tells them in the town that he's drinking at least two bottles of brandy a day."

Then in the weeks that followed there were no more alarms at the Abbey, and things went on in just the ordinary way. It was seen by everyone, however, that the suspense was telling upon its master, and he made no secret that he was now suffering badly from insomnia. Often he would go for long walks at night, in the hope of obtaining a few hours' sleep in the early morning.

Tiring of these lonely walks, he suddenly conceived a passion for night fishing, and when the tides were favourable would motor night after night over to Holkham Bay, generally starting directly dusk had fallen. There he kept a small cutter, and manning it himself, he would fish for hour after hour, often indeed until the daylight had almost come. He always went alone, and was not always successful in catching any fish.

One beautiful night in May, when there was no moon showing, Mr. Sheldon-Brown was seated at his desk about two o'clock in the morning, writing in his book. He was writing slowly, for his hand was rather shaky that night.

He wrote "——for of all my enemies he has proved to be the worst. But I know that I have made him suffer, even as I suffered when my fate was hanging upon a single thread. Day and night his suspense must have been terrible, forever wondering how and when the next blow would fall. But this cannot go on for ever, and soon I shall meet him face to face again and then—" but he suddenly lifted up his head and began to sniff violently.

The faint smell of petrol was stealing into the room, and it seemed to be coming in by the window! A look of dire dismay came instantly into his face, for knowing there were two 40 gallon drums of petrol in the garage about a hundred yards away from the house, he realised in a flash that if the smell were coming from either of them, then for it to have travelled as far as his study the drum must be leaking dangerously.

For the moment forgetting all his fears in his anxiety he stepped quickly across the room, and, unbarring the steel shutter, opened the long French window. The smell was then instantly more apparent, and so, with an oath of consternation, he started to dash over the lawn to the garage, with the smell getting stronger and stronger with each yard that he covered.

Reaching the garage he flung open the door and, stepping inside, switched on the lights.

For the moment he was blinded by the glare, but he wrinkled up his forehead in perplexity, for the smell seemed to have now all passed away. Then to his amazement he saw that his car had been moved forward, and as in a dream he caught a lightning glimpse of a long rope dangling down from one of the rafters at the back of the garage. He——

* * *

The same day, just before noon, Larose was walking in the grounds of Carmel Abbey with his little stepson, Sir Charles Ardane. He was carrying a letter in his hand, and in a few minutes he came upon a man on patrol among the trees.

"Here, William," he said, "just take this letter into the village and post it, please. I'll look after your rifle," but when the man had gone he left the rifle where it was and wandered away to try and find some squirrels to show the little boy.

Returning presently to the house, they had just sat down to lunch when the telephone rang in the hall, and a footman came in to announce that some one from London wanted his master at once. Proceeding quickly to the 'phone, Larose picked up the receiver and then recognising the voice of the Chief Commissioner of Police, looked back over his shoulder to see if any one were near.

The Commissioner's voice shook. "That Bascoigne has committed suicide," he called out excitedly. "Hanged himself in his garage during the night!"

"Good God!" exclaimed Larose as if he could not believe his ears, and then he added fervently, "Oh! what a relief!"

"Yes, and that's not all," went on the Commissioner with no abatement in the excitement of his tones, "for he's left behind him his life-story that he's written in a book. He admits everything and actually commences with 'I, Thomas Oscar Bascoigne!'"

"What!" shouted Larose incredulously; "he's left a confession behind!"

"No, no, it's not a confession," replied the Commissioner, "it's a boast. It's a glorification of all he's done, and it's not finished. He was apparently writing in it, however, just before he hanged himself."

"But are you sure it's his handwriting?" asked Larose, hardly able to get his breath.

"Sure," replied the Commissioner instantly, "for I've had both his solicitors in here and they say it's his, without a doubt. I've got the book on my desk at this moment, but it'll have to go back to Crowborough for the inquest to-morrow. You'd better come up at once and I'll get you also to attend the inquest if you don't mind."

So, after a short explanation to his wife, who clung tearfully to him in her overwhelming thanksgiving, Larose set out for town.

The following morning accompanied by Inspector Reynolds, who was representing Scotland Yard, Larose went down to Crowborough, and, along with one of the uniformed constables from the town, proceeded to inspect the garage where Mr. Brown had hanged himself. The identity of Larose was not disclosed and the inspector did all the talking.

The constable was the one who had come up with a detective the previous morning, directly upon the butler 'phoning up that his master had hanged himself, and he described exactly what they had seen upon their arrival.

"Everything is quite clear, sir," he said finally, to the inspector, "and there can be no doubt about the way he did it. He brought in that ladder to tie the rope across the beam up there, and then with the noose round his neck he just jumped off and dropped." He smiled. "He had calculated very well, too, for his feet were not eighteen inches above the ground when we found him."

"Humph!" remarked the inspector, looking up at the beam, "and did you have to climb up there to get the rope down?"

"No," replied the constable, "for when we had taken off the noose from the deceased's neck we were able to jerk the other end of the rope away. It was only tied with a slip-knot over the beam," and at that moment the butler's wife running into the garage to announce that the constable was wanted upon the 'phone the inspector and Larose were left alone.

"These country chaps are always so sure about everything," smiled the inspector, "that no wonder we Londoners like to take a rise out of them," and, picking up the ladder, he propped it up against the rafter and proceeded to climb quickly up.

"Here, you come up, too," he said after a moment, and upon Larose complying with his request, he pointed to a little stain upon the beam close near to where the rope had been tied.

"Looks like a smear of blood to me," he said, "so perhaps he barked his knuckles when he was tying the rope." He nodded. "At any rate, I'll find out at the inquest if there were any abrasions upon either of his hands. It may turn out to be most important."

A few minutes, later as they were getting into the car to drive to where the inquest was going to be held, the inspector asked Larose if he would stop at some hotel on the way. "I've got a bit of a sore throat," he said, "and as I shall now have to do some talking about that blood-smear, I think I'll take a drop of port to ease it. I don't seem to be able to shake it off," he added. "I caught it three weeks ago fishing on Southend Pier."

"Oh! a fisherman are you?" asked Larose, as if very interested. "I'm keen on it, too. I had three days night-fishing last week."

"Lucky man!" said the inspector enviously. "I can only get a day very occasionally, and then I never seem to find a place where there are any fish."

Larose thought for a few moments. "Well, look here, Inspector," he said. "You were very decent the other day when my friend was under suspicion at Rostrellor Court, and I'd like to make you some small return. What about getting a week's leave next month and coming down with your wife to Carmel Abbey when Mrs. Larose and I are alone? The whiting will be biting then and I'll give you some good sport. No, nonsense, man, and if you do find you're drinking port over 50 years old, and a footman is standing behind you, remember I was only a policeman, too, and it isn't three years since I left the Force."

The Inspector's face glowed with pleasure. What a feather in his cap he thought, and how interested they would all be at the Yard! It was believed that Larose lived like a lord at Carmel Abbey, and what a time he, Henry Reynolds, would have!

He accepted the invitation at once and thanked Larose warmly. Then when Larose allowed him to pay for the port wine they both had he thought the ex-detective was quite the finest fellow in the world.

The inquest was held in a large room adjoining the mortuary, and the coroner, a quick, sharp-looking man, was soon seen to be most business-like in his methods of conducting the proceedings.

The constable and the local detective were the first witnesses called, and they both stated what they found when they had arrived at the garage, and then gave it as their emphatic opinion that to all appearances the deceased had undoubtedly hanged himself.

The police surgeon of the district, who, along with a brother practitioner, had performed the autopsy, came next. He was an elderly man, and looked tired and overworked, as indeed he was. He told the court he had seen the body before it was cut down, and there was no doubt it was a case of self-destruction. The neck was broken between the third and fourth vertebrae, and death would have been instantaneous. The deceased was not a healthy person, for the heart was very much dilated and the liver partly cirrhosed.

He gave his evidence quickly, as if he were anxious to get it over and, had the truth been known, he had been equally as expeditious with the post-mortem, and in consequence had not noticed a slight extravasation of blood under the skin at the back of the head.

"If you don't bother him with any questions," whispered Larose to the inspector, "it may be all over in time for us to get away to the one o'clock lunch at the 'Crown' and then we'll have some much better port than that we had this morning." He passed his hand over his face. "I've got a bit of a headache and feel tired and hungry."

The inspector nodded and sat back. Certainly, after that invitation to Carmel Abbey, he was not going to cross Larose in any way, and besides, that it was a case of suicide seemed perfectly clear, and he was bored with the proceedings, the like of which he had listened to many hundreds of times before.

The last witness was the butler, Alec MacTavish, and he related cautiously all that he knew. He had happened to wake up during the night at ten minutes to three, he said, and had noticed from his bedroom window that the lights were burning in the garage. He had remarked then to his wife that it was a great waste of money, but he had not gone out to switch them off because his master was always very angry at interference of any kind. So he had got back into bed and gone off to sleep again.

Yes, his master had been behaving very queerly lately, and drinking heavily, too. He really had not seemed to be in his right mind. He often sniffed, too, at that white powder in the bottle that had been exhibited, and was now upon the table there. That was all he, MacTavish, had to tell, and if his master had not died, he had been intending to give notice immediately, for things had begun to get on his nerves.

The coroner summed up very briefly. There was no doubt, he said, that the deceased had taken his own life, and a heavy drinker and a drug-addict—they had heard from the doctor that that white powder was a deadly poison, cocaine—it was not surprising that he had done so in a sudden fit of depression. As they had heard, he had taken off his coat and, folding it neatly, put it on one side along with his collar, his tie, and his shoes, which, strange to say, was a proceeding very often noticed in people who took their own lives. The deceased had left behind him a sort of diary—he held up the book here for every one to see—but although its contents were of great importance they were not relevant to the inquiry and it was not for him, the coroner, to disclose their nature.

He advised the jury to bring in the customary verdict of suicide during a fit of temporary insanity, which they at once did, and the proceedings terminated in time for Larose and the inspector to hurry away for the one o'clock luncheon at the Crown Hotel.

The newspaper had a great sale that evening, announcing in huge headlines the suicide of Sheldon-Brown, but they were not in all their glory until two days later, when the contents of Bascoigne's life story, as written line by line, was given to the Press. Then the flags went up with a vengeance, and Larose was not a little gratified by a big headline in the 'Daily Cry,' 'Entire Vindication of Gilbert Larose,' followed by a line in smaller type. 'The great international detective's reputation restored to its pedestal. Still the man who never fails!'

The story was most enlightening in its details, and besides giving the inner history of the crash of Bascoigne's last financial venture, it went fully into how he had first come to meet his co-conspirators and how their vengeance had been later carried out.

Incidentally the authorities were enabled to assure themselves of its trustworthiness by its mentioning of many things they had not learnt and the truth of which they were able to immediately verify. For instance, that the hat of Anthony Clutterbuck had been thrust down behind a groyne upon the wall of Canvey Island, and that the rifle with which Lord Burkington had been shot had been hidden in a rabbit-warren just behind his house.

In the meantime, armed with a search warrant, four detectives, under Inspector Reynolds, had made a lightning descent upon the domicile of the only juryman who had refused to agree to a verdict of guilty at the last trial and whom Bascoigne had recorded in his book as having received a bribe of £2000. They were accompanied by a woman searcher.

They had expected an easy prey, but not a little to their surprise were met by a furious and truculent individual who swore well and truly, with one adjective many times repeated, that it was all a lie that he had ever received a penny-piece from any one.

"Here, search that, you"—he hesitated—"you gentlemen," he shouted, taking off his ragged coat and throwing it into the arms of one of the detectives, "and keep all the fivers you find in the pockets for yourselves." His voice was like the bellowing of a bull. "Me with two thousand quid, and owing six weeks' rent to my crimson landlord!" He pointed to the mantelpiece. "And there's a summons for £2/14/6 from the ruddy grocer up the street."

Then when he learnt that the woman with them was a searcher, he began to cast off more garments, with the grinning intimation that she could start at once upon him.

The house and the little yard at the back were gone through most minutely, but no money was found anywhere, and everything suggested the border-line of abject poverty.

Then, when after a couple of hours of hard searching the detectives were proceeding to leave, the man shouted at them.

"And you'll be keeping an eye on me, will you?" He laughed scornfully. "Well, I'll tell you exactly what I shall be doing for the next few days. To-morrow I'll be carting coals for old Stuckey round the corner; on Friday I'll be working in the market, and on Saturday"—he looked pleasant for the first time—"if I've got a bob or two, I'll go down to Kempton Park and make a couple of quid. I know a brute that's going to win at twenty to one."

Then when at last the front door was closed behind them, he wiped over his forehead with his shirt sleeve and grinned at his now smiling wife. "Whew!" he ejaculated in great relief, "but that was a close shave!" He shook his finger warningly at her. "But I told you we should have to be blasted careful for a long while, and now there'll be no going near Mother's for a good month, and we won't shift from here for another three."

He picked up the coat he had thrown at the detective and, abstracting a well-folded piece of dirty newspaper from one of the pockets, drew out a one pound Treasury note from among six or seven others. "Here," he said, handing it over to her, "go and get some fish and chips and a couple of bottles of stout," and then when she was putting on her hat he proceeded to roll himself a cigarette, humming softly, but in very jubilant tone, "A boy's best friend is his mother."

* * *

Inspector Reynolds and his wife had their week at Carmel Abbey and both enjoyed themselves immensely.

Upon the night of their arrival the inspector and his host were smoking in the lounge when the former remarked laughingly. "Oh! I've got something very curious to tell you, and I'm sure you'll be interested. Last Sunday four of us made up a little party to go down to Bexhill, and we stopped for a drink at Tunbridge Wells. In the bar of the hotel were a lot of country chaps yarning together, and presently that inquest upon Bascoigne cropped up. One man then said it was a scandal the way it had been hurried through, with no help being given by us up at the Yard. Then he went on to tell an extraordinary tale that he said was going all about Crowborough. According to him, that Scotch butler had got hold of Bascoigne's book one day long before he hanged himself and, making a copy of several pages, had sent them up to London, to the police."

"Great Scot! What a tale!" commented Larose.

"Yes," went on the inspector, "and he said we were all furious, for even with this proof of the man's guilt in our very hands, we could not touch him, because we knew he could not be tried again upon the same charge." He grinned. "So what did we do?"

"I don't know," smiled Larose. "Suggested that he should hang himself, perhaps!"

"No," said the inspector with his eyes twinkling, "but we just waited for the opportunity and then hanged him ourselves." He nodded. "Yes, this chap said that for weeks and weeks before the supposed suicide a phantom motor car had been often noticed in the dead of night going up and down the lanes near Bascoigne's house. It never showed any lights and used to crawl so slowly that it hardly made any sound." He shook a big fat finger. "And, by Jove, that wasn't all!"

"Gosh!" exclaimed Larose, pretending to be very awe-struck, "then some one actually saw Bascoigne being hanged?"

"No," laughed the Inspector, "but the young fellow who was telling the story went on to say that he'd been present at the inquest, and had noticed something that no one else had done, and it was this." He lowered his voice impressively. "When the rope with which Bascoigne had hanged himself was being exhibited to the jury in the court, he had seen that the noose had been tied in a certain peculiar way, with the true hangman's knot at the back, so that the neck would break in exactly the right place."

"Oh!" exclaimed Larose with a smile, "he noticed that, did he? He was a sharp fellow."

"Yes," continued the inspector, "and he said that not one person in a million would know what a hangman's knot was, but he did, because it so happened his uncle was a warder at the Old Bailey, and had often showed him how they tied one." He leant back looking very amused. "Now, what do you think of the story, Mr. Larose?"

For a long moment Larose regarded the inspector very thoughtfully, and then replied with perfect seriousness: "I should think it's quite true"—his face hardened—"and if it isn't, it ought to be, for Bascoigne was a public enemy, and his hanging by any one would have been justice and not murder." He smiled his most pleasant smile. "I would have done it myself with the greatest of pleasure if I had been allowed to."


THE END

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